Gen Y Narcissistic (Part III)

BusinessWeek continues the debate about Gen Y's "narcissism." (I put that in quotations marks because it's a loaded term, but also because it comes originally from Prof. Jean Twenge's study about Gen Y, not from me.)

The author of the BW article ("Gen Y: Really All That Naricisstic?") points out that there's a nicer side to this phenomenon, that Gen Y really just has a sense of "healthy self-esteem."

I'm not a psychiatrist, so I won't try to diagnose a person, or a whole generation, with a clinical disorder. However, as I've written about often, I do think that what we're seeing is an unhealthy level of self-esteem, self-esteem that is fake and fragile when it has not been earned. And I don't think it's crazy to spot elements of narcissism in an entire demographic that thinks the world wants to read blog postings about what they had for breakfast. An exaggeration, perhaps, but not far off. If lay-people want to call that narcissistic, I don't really have a bone to pick.

The comments to the BW article have already started coming in, and they are (as is often the case) just as interesting as the original article. ("Just like to point out that the Gen Ys are the kids of the original "Me Generation," the Boomers"...)

The boomer connection is an interesting one, and I've been mulling over the role of helicopter parents for a while now. I had one of those a-ha moments at a wedding I went to last year. Some of the younger kids wanted to perform. Some of them played piano, others hopped around on stage doing funny dances. It was funny, sometimes cute, sometimes not, and standard wedding fare. What seemed different from weddings many moons ago was that the parents expected the whole world to stop and watch what their kids were doing, and naturally they zoomed in with their camcorders to document every minute.

As I was watching, it dawned on me that an entire generation of kids has had every little gurgle and tap dance recorded for posterity, and I wonder what it does to a developing sense of self to be treated like a little celebrity from day one. Their every move has been documented and oohed and aahed over since before they emerged from the womb. It's like growing up with their very own paparazzi and publicists rolled into one.

I don't fault Gen Y for any of this. And even parents aren't completely to blame. Technology plays an interesting role here. Older generations didn't have access to cheap camcorders, for example, and one of the reasons previous generations of college students didn't talk to their parents six times a day was because you had to use a public phone booth -- down the hall! -- and pay a lot of money to make a long-distance call. Technology changes everything, obviously, and in this instance it enables helicopter and paparazzi parenting. Maybe it's not just a boomer thing, but I suspect it's a combination. Boomers + technology = helicopter/paparazzi parenting. It's interesting to me that so many of these articles about Gen Y and its "narcissism" seem to assume that this behavior springs forth sui generis.

More postings on Gen Y narcissism here and here. Postings about helicopter parents here. A post about real celebrity parents, Hilton/Lohan-style, here. And a post about the Say Everything phenomenon here.