This is a good book that describes the selfishness, vanity, pride, arrogance, depression, cynicism, apathy, and attitude of many young Americans today: Generation Me by Jean Twenge. The subtitle of the book explains it a bit more: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled – and More Miserable Than Ever Before. If this topic sounds familiar to our blog readers, it’s because I blogged about Twenge’s other book, The Narcissism Epidemic roughly one year ago. Though there is some overlap between these two books, in my opinion they don’t overlap too much.
In Generation Me, Twenge basically charts her studies of Americans born in the 70-90s (the group she calls “Generation Me”). Her findings show a drastic change in the last 50 years (or so) among American youth. For example, many in Generation Me care more about self-expression and self-esteem than societal rules, customs, and norms. In the words of one young lady, “I couldn’t care less how I am viewed by society. I live my life according to the morals, views, and standards that I create” (p. 20).
Another thing Twenge mentions is how the Boomer generation did/does all it can to increase the self-esteem of Generation Me. Many young adults today have been told all their lives that they are special; or in the words of an old Whitney Houston song, “learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all.” Schools teach self-esteem and self-love. One kids’ book from 1991 is called, The Loveables in the Kingdom of Self-Esteem. Of course the church follows suit with the irreverent moralisms of Veggie Tales and Max Lucado’s 1997 book, You Are Special. Both in the secular and religious realm, the “gospel” has been this: you are special!
Hand in hand with self-love or “specialness” comes the thought that everyone has entitlements to about anything they want. Twenge notes how many within Generation Me think they will have (and deserve!) a high paying job that they love, a beautiful spouse, an outstanding house, and tons of Facebook followers. Gen Me grew up with everyone telling them that they are sp special that they can have anything they want and be anyone they want. When they don’t get these things, their specialness bubble is burst. This is why depression is widespread; it is also why many in Generation Me are apathetic and cynical. One person was so apathetic and cynical the only reason (he said) he didn’t commit suicide was to see if the next few weeks would suck in a different way than the ones before. Generation Me is the generation that grew up saying, “yeah right,” and “whatever.” Twenge devotes an entire chapter on depression, anxiety, and loneliness.
Again, thinking about the church, I think it would be a fascinating study to see the long-term effects of the “Christian” version of self-esteem messages (Veggie Tales, Max Lucado, and other self-esteem preachers and songs). Or what about worship services that cater to the self (usually the youthful self)? What are the effects of constantly singing “I want” or “I just wanna” praise and worship songs?
Twenge even ties this into the political realm. A large percentage of GenMe doesn’t vote or care because, as one cynic once said, “it doesn’t matter who you vote for, the government still gets in.” Or another youth put it this way: “There’s a greater chance of dying in a plane crash than having my one vote actually matter.”
Here’s one “religious” paragraph that stuck out:
“The message (of entitlement/self-esteem) comes across even in somewhat unlikely sources. In a 2004 episode of 7th Heaven, one of the few relatively conservative, G-rated shows on television, 21-year-old Lucy gives a sermon to the young women in the congregation. ‘God wants us to know and love ourselves,’ she says. ‘He also wants us to know our purpose, our passion. …So I ask you…’What have you dreamt about doing? …What you are waiting for is already inside of you. God has equipped us with everything we need to live full and rich lives. It is our responsibility to make that life happen – to make our dreams happen'” (p. 85).
I recommend this book with a few things to note: 1) it is a book on sociology, so it isn’t the most exciting book you’ll ever read, 2) it is R-rated – Twenge’s reports aren’t toned down, especially in the chapter on the sexual attitude of Gen Me, and 3) read it and think about how Twenge’s studies relate to the church and the Christian life. The author isn’t a Christian and this isn’t a Christian book. However, for those of you who are serious Christians who wrestle with Christianity and culture (how the latter affects the former), this book will certainly be thought-provoking.
Jean Twenge, Generation Me (New York: Free Press, 2006).