Generation Me by Jean M. Twenge

Subtitled: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled–and More Miserable Than Ever Before.

I picked up Generation Me after hearing Dr. Jean M. Twenge interviewed on The White Horse Inn, a favorite podcast of mine.

While I really appreciated the depth and breadth of her research, and agree with many of her conclusions (particularly the importance of teaching self-control instead of self-esteem), I lost her when she began interpolating her own opinions on child rearing. Her derision (as a childless person) for attachment parenting was disappointing, considering that there are many proponents of that parenting style who do so because they feel that meeting the actual needs of babies and children encourages independence in a developmentally appropriate way. Sure, you can find examples of parents using AP to smother their children, but the same is true of parents who subscribe to more mainstream methods.

I am not averse to criticism of attachment parenting, but my problem is that she didn’t critique, she just spoke her own opinion as if it were fact. She has no data to support whether or not things like breastfeeding past infancy and sharing sleep with babies and children correlates with increased narcissism. In Japan, families sleep together as the societal norm–I wonder if they are more narcissistic than we are, according to the metrics she’s evaluating? And prior to the 20th Century, it was normal for babies to be breastfed past infancy. Were people more narcissistic then? In fact, breastfeeding rates plummeted in the early 1970s, precisely when the leading edge of Generation Me was born.

I don’t want to discount the majority of the book, which I found insightful and provocative. I was born in 1973, and every year that I have taught college students I have felt more and more of a disconnect with my students. Where I am motivated by criticism–it prods me to strive harder to be told I haven’t gotten something right–it does seem to me that the college students I work with need much more hand-holding than I ever expected when I was in school. My teachers never fluffed my ego, and they weren’t afraid to give me a poor grade. And that’s what the real world is like. When I turn in a screenplay to the producers and network executives I’m working for, I’m not expecting to hear that I’ve done a good job. I’m expecting them to tell me what’s not working so that I can fix it and improve it. Sure, it feels good to be complimented, but it doesn’t help me any. And it feels really good to be told, “Job well done” after I’ve worked hard to get everything just right.

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