Generation Me

Interesting summary of the book ‘Generation Me’ by Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D. Twenge suggests a different interpretation of some of the commonly held conceptions of the generation variously referred to as Generation Y, iGeneration, the Millenials, and in this case, Generation Me.

This book and summary gives some great insights into today’s young adults and also our own children. It contrasts the way today’s youth process and perceive themselves and society as well as hinting to parents why our childrens generation will be vastly different from ours.

Twenge begins her introduction to Generation Me with the concept that “we are a much more informal and accepting society than we once were” (pg. 18). As a result of changing social mores, the rules that once governed polite society are no longer as strict, or universally accepted as they were for past generations. “Compared to Boomers . . . GenMe is twice as likely to agree with the statement There is no single right way to live” (pg. 19).

In place of the commonly held standards of past generations, Twenge argues that what is most important to this generation are the choices of the individual, leading to a generation of individuals whose attitudes are summed up by the statement, “As long as I believe in myself, I really do not care what others think.” Twenge gives examples from modern pop culture that support this theory, both as influences and reflections of the generation they represent. Movies like the Majestic, Pleasantville, and Bend It Like Beckham, dramatize what Twenge calls “two interlocking changes: the fall of social rules and the rise of the individual” (pg. 22) She also uses changes in dance styles, from the rigidity of the Arthur Miller method to the free-form dances of today, to illustrate this shift.

The belief that there is no longer one right way to do things plays out in a variety of ways among members of GenMe. This generation has not embraced the rules of etiquette that are built around “respect for other people’s comfort” (pg. 26). Cheating in school has increased (pg. 27). Students are less likely to recognize the authority of teachers, presuming instead that their perspectives and opinions are on an equal footing with the experts (pg. 29). Former taboos regarding dating and marriage have evaporated (pg. 31). GenMe individuals are more willing

to share their experiences (positive and negative) in explicit detail with anyone who will listen (pg. 37). Language that was considered profane has become commonplace (pg. 40).   

Of particular interest is what Twenge has to say about the Church. “GenMe is also less willing to follow the rules of organized religion” (pg. 34). She notes declining church attendance since the 1950’s, and particularly low attendance percentages for 18 to 29 year olds. Twenge references Jeffery Arnett from Emerging Adulthood, describing “the belief systems of young people as ‘highly individualized’, which he calls ‘make-your own’ religions.’ He found that only 23% of young people are ‘conservative believers’; the remaining 77% were agnostic/atheist, deist, or liberal believers (who believe in a religion but question some aspects of it)” (pg. 34). The churches that have experienced growth are those that “promote a very personalized form of religion” (pg. 35).

These churches’ emphasis on Christ as a personal savior who has a plan for your life play into the individualized culture of GenMe. As an example, Twenge quotes Rich Warren from The Purpose-Driven Life, “Accept yourself. Don’t chase after other people’s approval . . . God accepts us unconditionally, and in His view we are all precious and priceless” (pg. 35).

Twenge argues that one of the primary contributors to this culture of the individual is the institutionalized emphasis on self-esteem that began in the 1970s. The self-esteem curriculum that took hold in schools and churches drove home to GenMe children that they are unique and special individuals, independent of anything they do or have. Twenge contends that this emphasis went overboard with GenMe, creating the belief that “feeling good about yourself is more important than good performance” (pg 56-57). A negative outcome of the

overemphasis on self-esteem has been an increase in narcissism (pg 69), in which individuals are “overly focused on themselves and lack empathy for others” pg. 68).

An extension of the emphasis on self-esteem, has been the message that “You can be anything you want to be” (pg 72). Twenge notes “We expect our kids to have individual preferences and would never dream, as earlier generations did, of making every single decision for our children and asking them to be seen and not heard. Not coincidentally, this also teaches children that their wants are the most important” (pg. 75). (For an excellent discussion of this topic, see Kidfluence by Anne Sutherland and Beth Thompson.) Twenge references a number

of statistics and publications that indicate that GenMe students have very high expectations for the academic, professional and economic heights to which they aspire, and then illustrates that many of these confident expectations will be frustrated by simple realities.

The stress that GenMe young adults encounter in college admissions and in career pursuits are similar. Throughout their childhood years, GenMe has been told repeatedly that they are special, unique people, whose opinions are important, and who can achieve anything as long as they follow their dreams. The reality they encounter, however, is that only a few of them will get into the best colleges, and even fewer into the best graduate, law and medical schools (pg. 118). This dynamic continues into the job market where GenMe expects high-paying, high-prestige jobs in which their input is highly valued, and their rapid advancement is assured, and the reality is rarely consistent with the expectation (pg. 119).

Twenge lays out suggestions for how to better reach, communicate with and serve GenMe.

For Employers: Try to understand you GenMe employees, allow them to learn by doing, take advantage of their comfort with diversity and remember that they do not take criticism well. (pg. 216-221)

For Society: Abandon our obsession with self-esteem, and be honest with children about their success and failures. (pg. 223-227) Give better advice, including the idea that not everyone should go to college. (pg. 227-228) Support working parents. (pg. 229-235)

Summary of Generation Me

By Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D.

© 2006 Free Press (Simon & Schuster)

Executive Summary prepared by Steve Eubanks



- Lance