WHEN I WAS IN COLLEGE (a whole nine months ago), you couldn’t navigate campus without running into students in T-shirts that read “At USC, we’re not snobs ... we’re just better than you” -- a nod to the school’s University of Spoiled Children nickname. As it turns out, it isn’t just Trojans who feel strongly about their own self-importance.
A study led by San Diego psychologist Jean Twenge, released this week, found that today’s college students are more narcissistic than ever -- a development some fear will harm personal relationships and, ultimately, American society.
The researchers asked students questions on a “Narcissistic Personality Inventory,” then compared the responses to those of college students in previous generations. Gen Y’ers agreed overwhelmingly with statements like “I think I am a special person” and “I can live my life any way I want to.” The conclusion? My friends and I are an egotistical bunch.
The study has a point. We’re the generation that always got a soccer trophy, no matter how well the team played -- the ones whose precious self-esteem has been pampered and protected.
Now that we’ve come of age, it turns out we are pretty special. Older generations had to star in a movie or write a book to get the masses’ attention. All we have to do is eat pig intestines or date six people at once and bam! -- someone aims a camera at us. If that doesn’t work, we can do the camera work ourselves and post the results on websites that begin with words like “My” and “You,” sites that also encourage us to share our favorite books, movies and TV shows simply because we’re so damn interesting.
Naturally, all of this has given us a certain sense of entitlement, one that’s displayed on MTV’s “My Super Sweet 16,” in which teenagers demand Hummers and Jags as birthday presents and performances by A-list rap stars for party entertainment. The birthday boys and girls often break down when any extravagance is refused because, they all insist, “I deserve it.”
But I can’t jump on board with the study’s suggestion that we’re all just vain, spoiled brats. Plenty of college students commit themselves to noble efforts, whether it’s ditching their spring break vacations to help rebuild the Gulf Coast or signing up for programs like Teach for America. In the study, Twenge viewed this trend skeptically, suggesting that all charitable endeavors taken on by today’s youth are done merely to boost resumes.
Maybe that’s true, but I think that instead of being monstrously more self-centered than previous generations, we simply have the technological tools available to accommodate our self-absorbed tendencies, and we live in a world -- not of our making -- that considers self-regard a prerequisite for success.
Still, if adults keep inflating kids’ egos without also instilling the importance of working hard, valuing others and having character, then they’ll reap what they sow: kids who are treated like royalty -- and act like it.