Today's college students are more narcissistic and self-centered than their predecessors, according to a comprehensive new study by five psychologists who worry that the trend could be harmful to personal relationships and American society.
"We need to stop endlessly repeating, â€˜You're special,' and having children repeat that back," said Jean Twenge, the study's lead author and professor at San Diego State University.
Well, damn. That's from a recent article in the Boston Globe. The authors of the study blame the usual suspects: the self-esteem movement that emerged in the 1980's and MySpace.
Maybe it's because I read a lot of applications, but it occurs to me that the college and graduate school admissions process plays a huge role in cultivating that "I'm special" attitude. When I was applying to college back in the olden days, I don't recall writing about myself in my application essay —- I wrote about a Catullus poem. (I know, I knowâ€¦) Schools seemed to care more about how you think than how you (read: your parents) started a fundraising drive to purify water sources in sub-Saharan Africa. Not that there's anything wrong with the latter, but let's be honest about the motivations.
Today, college and grad school applications want to know what makes you think you're so special, and kids are trained from an early age to think of every activity and achievement as something to contribute to the "brag sheets" and "Look At Me!" admissions essays that have become standard in the application process. I don't blame students for that —- they don't write the application questions or set the admissions standards. They're just responding to some very powerful incentives.
Sure, MySpace and helicopter parenting play a role, but I would also point a finger at the admissions community, and I'll just throw this out there: Today's application process threatens to have an absolutely corrupting effect on an entire generation of people. After years and years of those strategic "Look At Me!" exercises, do we really expect people's characters to remain unaffected, especially at a very formative age?