In "We Are Raising a Generation of Deluded Narcissists," Dr. Keith Ablow argues that today’s young adults are more narcissistic than ever, and before too long, there will be hell to pay.
Ablow references a study by Jean M. Twenge, PhD, author of Generation Me and The Narcissism Epidemic, which found that “college students are more likely than ever to call themselves gifted and driven to succeed, even though their test scores and time spent studying are decreasing.”
Twenge, herself a member of Gen Y, and I go way back. I read Generation Me several years ago, after running to the bookstore to learn more about the young person I’d hired who’d lied on his resume and spent more time online chatting with his numerous friends about the next keg party than actually doing his job.
Now, I’ve worked with many young people, including my son Adam, a college student, who were clearly talented and had great work ethics. But I’ve also worked with a few who had egos out to here (insert arm span) and seemed to think they were the star in their own little reality series. So, when Ablow says, “Using Twitter, young people can pretend they are worth ‘following’ as though they have real-life fans, when all that is really happening is the mutual fanning of false love and false fame” I think he may have a point.
I like Twitter, but if you read some of the tweets, you definitely get the sense that some people are a little confused about reality versus fantasy. For example, I follow Jill Scott, and every day (in fact multiple times a day) one of her fans tweets about “lovely Jill Scott,” “beautiful Jill Scott,” “foxy Jill Scott, I love you,” etc. Does Ms. Scott ever tweet back? Hell no. (Not that I’m blaming her exactly.) But my point is, this is weird. I’m all for self-promotion or dissemination of information on Twitter, but constantly talking to people who aren’t talking back? Because um … you’re not in an actual relationship? That’s a little strange. (And no, it’s not the same thing as having a blog, dammit!)
Of course, narcissism is not limited to young people. Twenge writes in Generation Me that the modern concept of “self-esteem,” which is really about self-love, “pops up in everything from women’s magazines to song lyrics to celebrity interviews,” and she claims that we’ve all begun to drink the Kool-Aid. For example, if the notion that we must love ourselves before loving others sounds like wisdom to you, I'll bet your tongue is bright red. As Twenge points out, marriages don’t dissolve because people love themselves too little. They dissolve because people love themselves too much and others not enough.
Says Ablow, “The bubble of narcissism is always at risk of bursting. That’s why young people are higher on drugs than ever, drunker than ever, smoking more, tattooed more, pierced more and having more and more and more sex, earlier and earlier and earlier, raising babies before they can do it well, because it makes them feel special, for a while. They’re doing anything to distract themselves from the fact that they feel empty inside and unworthy.”
I hope Ablow is exaggerating a little, because the picture he paints is downright depressing, and he wasn’t even finished. He goes on to say, “Distractions, however, are temporary, and the truth is eternal. Watch for an epidemic of depression and suicidality, not to mention homicidality, as the real self-loathing and hatred of others that lies beneath all this narcissism rises to the surface. I see it happening and, no doubt, many of you do, too.”
Ablow warns that we better come up with a plan to turn the tide before it’s too late, and I wonder what he has in mind. As for me and mine, I’m opting for some straight talk and a whole lot of prayer.