By Anya Proctor
Are the youngsters of America’s most recent generations a little full of themselves? College freshman Cara Shields seems to think so. “There’s all the people obsessed with swag … and all that and they’re very self-possessed,” she says.
In a recent seminar at the University of Tampa, a professor contested that 20-somethings today are nothing short of young, dumb, and narcissistic. Shields shares his general opinion, but qualifies that there is a differentiation between the “truly narcissistic” and many people who are but a little self-absorbed.
While she doesn’t consider herself a part of this epidemic of self-importance, Shields notes her own mom as well as her friends’ moms participate in a parenting culture which reassures children of their
“perfection.” She suggests this could be partly to blame for the emergence of modern narcissism, noting it wasn’t like that in previous generations.
There are a lot of differences between young and old generations—one of the most notable being social media. Shields definitely thinks this has something to do with the problem. She describes Facebook as a “documentation of your entire life” and addresses the popular phenomenon of taking “selfies” (pictures of one’s self).
So, young people are overtly preoccupied with themselves. Are they stupid too? This may be so according to Shields. She literally laughs at the idea of her high school curriculum being challenging, saying teachers were lenient and that a dumbing down of curriculum was evident.
However, as a current biology major, Shields says that is not the case in college so far. She says within her major professors generally aren’t lenient, although in elective and general education classes such as “First Year Writing” they tend to be.
While educational institutions may partly responsible for a populous that is less knowledgeable than its predecessors, a spirit of indifference seems to characterize the youth by their own hand. “Part of the narcissism thing is that…most kids don’t care about current events, like politics or news. Instead of watching CNN or listening to NPR they’ll just turn on a reality show,” says Shields.
The UT professor who gave the narcissism seminar advocated a final factor to blame: self-esteem.
Shields doesn’t feel as strongly as the professor, who condemned the wave of self-esteem enthusiasts in the sixties for inflating the egos of its subsequent generation, but agrees the problem exists in some. She says, “There are people who feel really horrible about themselves who need it; but it pushes people who already feel okay about themselves even higher.”
To be hopeful is preferable, but Shields doesn’t think national problems of narcissism and underachievement are going away anytime soon. “I’m looking at even younger kids like 10-11 year olds and I think it’s getting a little worse. The TV shows, the movies, all of that aren’t helping,” she says.