By MELISSA WELLHAM
They’re selfish. They expect adults to do everything for them. They don’t know the meaning of hard work. They’re easily distracted by iPads and iPods and all things starting with ‘i’ that have touch screen capability.
They don’t understand it when things don’t go their way, and they don’t have the coping mechanisms to deal with setbacks – emotional or otherwise.
No, I’m not talking about Gen Y. I’m NOT.
I was describing toddlers.
But the way that most Gen X and Baby Boomer commentators portray Gen Y – you would think that people born between the late 80s and the early 00s – had never grown up past the troublesome twos.
Last month, Wendy Squires wrote for Fairfax a piece titled ‘Is this the most narcissistic generation we’ve ever seen?’ in which she talks about Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) which is
apparently widespread amongst Gen Y.
Squires begins with a shocking anecdote. Truly shocking (sarcasm font switched off).
Several months ago, a 48-year-old single mother informed her two teenage children that the cancer in her breast had returned, more aggressive than ever. She had no idea how they would react, so wasn’t surprised when her stunned son asked incredulously, ”What does this mean?” ”I’ll tell you what it means,” her daughter interjected angrily. ”It means we’re not going to Fiji for Easter!”
The article goes on to describe the symptoms on NPD, which include expecting constant admiration, fantasising about power and success, and not demonstrating empathy or compassion. Some other ‘symptoms’ that could perhaps be more accurately described as ‘feelings that all people feel on occasion’ include experiencing jealousy, and not liking to be rejected.
Squires is by no means alone in her views and I’m not singling her out for my criticism. Gen Y bashing is widespread in the media and is a favourite sport of many online commentators.
The article goes on to argue that “good, solid, grounded, generous, empathetic, humble and inspirational kids” are disappearing from our planet. Squires then questions whether, at the very least, “you’d agree they’re getting harder to find?”
Well… no. I wouldn’t agree.
I don’t think ‘good’ young people are hard to find at all.
In fact, I know plenty of exceptional, considerate, kindhearted, diligent, punctual, altruistic young people.
I have friends who have started education foundations. I have friends who, although receiving entry-level salaries, donate at least 10 percent of their income every month to charity.
I have friends who are undertaking programs specifically aimed at recent graduates, like Teach for Australia, which encourage high achievers to commit to teaching children in rural and disadvantaged schools.
I also have friends whose parents are dying of cancer. And, I can assure you of this, they are not complaining about the fact that they don’t get to visit Fiji for Easter.
I have friends who volunteer on weekends, and pick up stray dogs when they see them on the street and try to find their owners, and fundraise for charities, and participate in protests protecting women’s reproductive rights, and start community clubs, and visit their grandparents semi-regularly – and, well the list goes on. Because, as it turns out, most of the young people I know are pretty gosh darn good.
So maybe good solid, grounded, generous, empathetic, humble and inspirational kids are only hard to find if you’re not looking hard enough.
There is some evidence to suggest that college-age students in America are becoming more narcissistic. But I would wager that if the same study were conducted across all age groups, a similar trend would emerge.
The Fairfax article on NPD refers specifically to teenagers, “slouching over their phones bored with the company they’re keeping”, so maybe all my examples of 20-somethings doing good things for the world are for naught. But the specificity of teenagers actually makes it easier for me to make my next point.
Surely if this narcissistic ‘condition’ does affect mostly teenagers, and the ‘cure’ is more time and interaction with their parents, then doesn’t this suggest that… it is the environment that children are brought up in, that affects their behaviour?
Crazy notion, I know. But bear with me.
This isn’t some huge government conspiracy; there wasn’t something slipped in the water between the 1980s to the early 2000s, which resulted in all children born within this timeframe being inherently narcissist and compassion-less.
Ultimately, we all live in the same world – and Gen Y has grown up in the reality that the previous generation created.
When Gen X complains about Gen Y – and specifically teenagers nowadays (and their newfangled smartphones!) – you are complaining about your children. The people you brought up.
The primary school kids who followed you around, when you were the cool older aunt or family friend. You are complaining about a generation that has followed your example.
Perhaps what I find most insulting about criticism directed towards Gen Y, is that so much of the criticism appears to be about non-issues. The Fairfax article concludes that:
My girlfriends and I have coined our own term for the syndrome: severe narcissism overcoming teenagers, or SNOT… They’re mugging for whatever camera is closest – usually their own – then posting their selfies on line.
Okay, I admit it. You caught me.
Cuff me, officer. Lock me up and throw away the key.
Yet despite having taken selfies, I don’t think that I’m a terrible, immoral person with no compassion for others. I really enjoy going out for dinner with my parents, and discussing politics and world issues. I’ve never watched an episode of Big Brother – but I also don’t judge those who do watch it.
Basically what I’m saying is: I’m Gen Y, and I don’t think I completely suck.
Then again, I would big note myself like that, wouldn’t I? Textbook Gen Y behaviour.
What do you think? Is Gen Y the worst generation yet?