Sunday, June 24, 2007

It’s all about me

Is our generation too self-absorbed?

By Sarah Abbott
South Charleston High School

Narcissism means having a big ego and believing that you’re more important than the people around you. It’s something that some psychologists believe is plaguing this generation.

The problem, they say, is that there is a big difference between having good self-esteem and being self-centered.

“Someone who has high self-esteem has confidence in individualistic areas but also tends to value good relationships with other people. Someone who’s narcissistic is missing that piece about other people and relationships,” said San Diego State psychology professor and “Generation Me” author Jean Twenge in a March U.S. News & World Report interview.

Twenge said even the rise in volunteerism among teens may be more self-serving than we think.

“What do you mean?” you might ask indignantly. “I do community service, and so does everyone I know. Community service helps other people.”

But not surprisingly, community service is also required to graduate. Plus, it looks good on college applications and scholarship forms. See the connection?

For most students in middle and high school, it’s difficult to imagine a future without college. We’ve been fed statistics and reasons for needing higher education since we were little. And it’s true: To succeed in today’s world, we do need a college education — or at least some form of education beyond high school.

But are we too focused on our own needs and not enough on the big picture?

Something that teenagers may not know to associate with narcissism is a drop in close friendships or other relationships.

This is generally caused by narcissistic people’s excessive individualism. While individualism can be good to a point, too much can cause you to shut out your friends. It’s part of the image: You’re an individual, a nonconformist, and you think your thoughts are just so special that no one can understand how you really feel.

As a result, best friends don’t stay best friends and romantic relationships become more casual. Something I’ve noticed among my peers is that there are two extremes when it comes to relationships: Either you believe that you’re meant to be with a person and you stay with him or her for years, or you’re only together for the hookups.

Twenge backs this point up. “Narcissists favor short-term relationships,” she said. “This may help explain why hookups have become so popular.”

Another startling fact is our generation’s lofty sense of entitlement. According to, 31 percent of American teenagers believe they’ll be famous one day — that’s nearly one-third of all the teenagers in the United States.

With the extreme celebrity exposure in our society today, it’s no surprise that we want to be famous — but believing that we should be is a different matter. If each of us believes we’re better than the average person, that’s narcissism.

Problems with such an attitude are already starting to be seen. When you turn on a show like “Dr. Phil,” many times the guests he’s helping are young adults who are psychologically incapable of taking care of themselves because they believe they deserve to have an easy, rich life. They can’t function properly; they can’t hold a job.

As a teenager in what’s being called “Generation Me,” I don’t know whether I’m narcissistic. Maybe I am at times. Something I’ve realized, and that other people close to my age need to realize, is that everything isn’t all about me. Sometimes we have to do things we don’t like — like homework and chores.

Neglecting those things might turn into something more serious — like not doing our jobs right because we don’t want to work or because we’re unaccustomed to having to work. If everyone has that mindset, then who’s going to do everything for us? Will we teach our kids to be the same way until all the useful people in society are dead?

So the next time you have to do something you don’t really want to do, recognize that all of us run into that problem sometimes. Of course we’re all different, all unique, and we all deserve to have a good life. But like Thomas Jefferson said, we’re not just entitled to happiness. We’re entitled to the pursuit of happiness.