Are Parents to Blame for Generation Me

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Running Head: ARE PARENTS TO BLAME FOR GENERNATION ME

Are Parents to Blame for Generation Me‟s Focus on the Self? Jessica Hayden James Madison University

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Abstract Jean Twenge‟s “Generation Me” describes a cohort filled with narcissistic, entitled, selfabsorbed individuals. However, due to this phenomenon being fairly recent, little research has been conducted evaluating the effects and factors behind the birth of this generation. Our research attempted to evaluate one possible factor behind this uprising: modern parenting. According to Twenge (2006, 2009), modern parenting may explain the massive influx of this new generation and may be the root cause behind their negative characteristics. However, there is an extreme need for further research in this area so that the validity behind such claims can be examined. Our research indicates that there may be a strong positive correlation between modern parenting and students with Generation Me characteristics and that modern parenting may not be the best technique for future parents.

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Are Parents to Blame for Generation Me‟s Focus on the Self? Since the 1970‟s, “Generation Me” has spread across public schools, college campuses, and corporate America, leaving curious onlookers to ponder what warranted such an outbreak. Jean Twenge sought to answer this query by researching the minds and behaviors of individuals within this cohort, and created the self explanatory title of “Generation Me” so that everyone could understand this group‟s excessive focus on the self. Additionally, Twenge claims that this generation differs greatly from previous generations due to its unrealistic expectations, decreased need for social approval, external locus of control, and heightened anxiety and depression. Twenge also postulates that these characteristics will only serve as limitations for these individuals in the future. But, with Generation Me being a fairly recent phenomenon, Twenge had to rely on past studies, data, and surveys to illustrate the growth of these characteristics. Thus, due to the dearth in literature surrounding this topic, more research is needed to be able to concretely suggest the any deleterious effects surrounding Generation Me. Past results from the Narcissistic Personality Inventory support Twenge‟s claim surrounding this group‟s increased focus on the self. Specifically, after analyzing college student surveys taken between 1987 and 2006, she suggests that younger generations are significantly more narcissistic than generations past (Twenge, 2006). Additionally, past self-reports indicate that an astounding 80% of teenagers from the 1980‟s agreed with the statement “I am an important person,” as compared to the 12% of teenagers from the 1950‟s (Twenge, 2006, pg 69). This data clearly suggests that a sharp increase in self-absorption has occurred and may be illustrated by Generation Me. This generation‟s focus of the self is not the only characteristic that has become inflated within the last 30 years. Generation Me‟s expectations for the future have also become

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increasingly unrealistic and overly optimistic. In 1999, teenagers were asked to predict their annual income by the time they were 30, and reported that they expected to earn $75,000. However, these teenagers grossly over-estimated their annual income considering that the average income for 30 year-olds from 1999 was $27,000 (Twenge, 2006, pg 79). This major discrepancy in reality further supports Twenge‟s idea concerning this generation‟s overly optimistic view point. However, since optimism is a severely difficult characteristic to experimentally analyze, there is not a lot of empirical evidence to back up these findings. Furthermore, past research supports Twenge‟s claim of Generation Me having heightened anxiety and depression. Specifically, reports of panic attack symptoms appear to have doubled between 1995 and 1980. And in 1996, 40% more people felt as if they were about to experience a nervous breakdown compared to 1957. Additionally, a 1990‟s study demonstrated a sharp increase in depression in which 21% of teenagers indicated already experiencing a major depressive episode. That is a huge difference compared to the small 1-2% of Americans who experienced a major depressive episode before 1915. Unfortunately, what is most troubling about this statistic is that these individuals from past generations had lower levels of depression and anxiety, yet experience more hardship such as the Great Depression (Twenge, 2006, pg 1067). Even with Twenge‟s thorough review of past data, there is still debate regarding the potential factors behind this new generation. Twenge hypothesizes that the self-esteem movement of the 1980-90‟s may be to blame for this massive generational shift. During this time period, children were taught that it was extremely important to love themselves and value their uniqueness. School districts may have taken this movement too far by devoting special

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programs and activities towards building self-esteem, and thereby indoctrinated children with concepts of narcissism rather than appropriate levels of self-esteem (Twenge, 2006, pg 55). Additionally, the media continues to extend the self-esteem movement by filling the mind of Generation Me with grandiose views of their future. For example, popular reality shows on television such as MTV‟s My Super Sweet Sixteen, demonstrate that every 16 year old girl should be entitled to having a Hummer for her birthday and a $50,000 party. Furthermore, each episode promotes materialism, vanity, and manipulative tactics which are basic tenants of narcissism (Twenge & Campbell, 2009, pg 100). Thus, one may argue that our future children may have to skip school and refuse all sources of the media in order to have any chance of escaping Generation Me‟s effects. However, it appears that parenting may be one of the most influential factors behind the uprising of Generation Me and their focus on the self. Today‟s parents have opted to form nontraditional relationships with their children. Basic principles behind this new parenting style incorporate: allowing the child to control most of the authority, showering the child with unearned praise, protecting the child from criticism, and allowing the child all the freedom he or she wishes with little to no responsibility (Twenge & Campbell, 2009, pg 73). Accordingly, children from these parents grew up thinking they are special, entitled to the best in life, and eventually morphed into today‟s Generation Me. Past research has also explored the importance of parenting styles in regards to narcissism. Ramsey Watson, Biderman, and Reeves (1996), investigated whether inadequate parenting promoted narcissism within undergraduate college students. Their research produced significant results that indicated permissive and authoritarian parenting styles directly correlated with self reports on narcissistic tendencies. Additionally, a recent study by Horton, Bleau, and

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Drwecki (2006), suggests that parents who display high levels of warmth and low monitoring have children with higher narcissism scores. Although previous studies have been conducted surrounding narcissism, parenting styles, and how they relate to one another, there is a lack of literature exploring the relationship between parenting styles and Generation Me characteristics. Thus, our research wishes to add to the literature and analyze whether modern parenting can be correlated with Generation Me characteristics. In order to access whether any relationship is present, our research needed to develop a definition and scale to measure modern parenting. While modern parenting has not been operationally defined, our study generally defines this style as a parent who lavishes their child with unearned praise, protects them from others criticism, and treats them like royalty. Our scale utilizes the three domains of parenting styles: behavior control, psychological control, and perceived parental support, to outline the characteristics within the modern parenting style. Our primary reason behind this measure was due to Baumrind‟s typology being too simplistic (Baumrind, 1967). If our researchers lumped our participants‟ parents into the predetermined styles of authoritarian, permissive, and authoritative they would have restricted the validity of our study. Accordingly, we predict that students who perceive high levels of parental support will have correlating high levels of Generation Me characteristics. A negative relationship should also exist for parents with low levels of behavior control and students with high Generation Me characteristics. We also hypothesize that parents with high levels of modern parenting will positively correlate with students presenting high Generation Me characteristics.

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Method Participants A total of 148 students (40 men, 108 women) from James Madison University were used as participants for this study, with each student being recruited from their general psychology course. We also invited the 64 parents (19 fathers, 45 mothers) of our students to participate in an online survey. However, we only used data from the mothers since there was not enough data from the fathers to analyze. Procedure Students completed an online survey involving a Parental Support subscale, Behavioral Control subscale, Psychological Control subscale, Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale, Personal Entitlement Scale, Narcissistic Personality Inventory, Life Orientation Test, Automatic Thoughts Questionnaire, Academic Entitlement, and Taylor Manifest Anxiety Scale. Students also completed our Generation Me survey to measure the extent to which they matched Twenge‟s Generation Me characteristics. Parents also completed an online survey, but only answered items from our newly developed modern parenting scale. Parental Support This 10-item Parental Support subscale was revised from the Child Report of Behavior Inventory (CRPBI; Scaefer,1965), and required participants to respond using a three point scale: 1-not like her (him), 2- somewhat like her (him), and 3- a lot like her (him). Participants answered these items twice, once for their perception of their mother and once for their father. Sample items included: “My mother made me feel better when I was upset” and “My father cheered me up with I was sad.” We then used this data to access our participants‟ levels of perceive parental support.

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Behavioral Control The Behavioral Control subscale was created by Lamborn, Mounts, Steinburg, & Dornbusch (1991), and consisted of a 5-item scale accessing the level of monitoring (behavioral control) participants perceived about their parents. Specifically, the participants responded to these items using a 3-point scale that explained whether their parents: 1-didn‟t know, 2- knew a little, or 3-knew a lot, about what they did during their teenage years. Sample items included, “During your teenage years, how much did your parents really know…” followed by another statement such as “where you were at night?” or “what you did with your free time.” Similarly, we also used data from these items to assess our participants‟ levels of perceived behavioral control. Psychological Control The Psychological Control scale consisted of 8-items and was created by Barber (1996) to assessed the amount of perceived psychological control displayed by participants‟ parents. Participants responded using a three point scaled: 1- not like her (him), 2- somewhat like her (him), 3- A lot like her (him), an answered the items twice, once for their perception of their mother and once for their father. Sample items included: “My mother often interrupted me” and “My father finished my sentences whenever I talked.” This data was later used to access participants‟ perceived amounts of psychological control utilized by their parents. Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale In 1965, Rosenberg developed this 10-item self-esteem questionnaire. Participants indicated the amount to which they agreed with these items using a 4-point scale ranging from strongly agree to strongly disagree. Items such as “I feel I do not have much to be proud of” were used to illustrate the levels of self esteem within the participants. With Generation Me

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supposedly demonstrating an inflated self esteem, this scale was used to analyze possible relationships within Generation Me characteristics and modern parenting, as well as understand the participants perceived levels of their own self-esteem. Personal Entitlement Scale Campbell, Bonacci, Shelton, Exline, & Bushman, (2004) created this 9-item scale to predict participants behaviors concerning entitlement. Participants responded to these items using a 7-point scale that ranged from strong disagreement to strong agreement. In particular, this scale included troubling items such as: “If I were on the Titanic, I would deserve to be on the first lifeboat!” to determine the level of the participant‟s sense of entitlement. We later used this data to determine our participants‟ degrees of entitlement, as well as whether there was any relationship between entitlement and Generation Me characteristics or modern parenting. Narcissistic Personality Inventory Also known as the NPI, this 40-item scaled constructed by Raskin & Terry (1988), contains paired statements such as: “I am no better or worse than most people” and “I think I am a special person.”, and required the participant to choose the one statement they most agreed with. Twenge claimed that this generation is more self absorb then generations past, thus this data was used by our research team to assess any relationship to Generation Me characteristics and participants self reported levels of narcissism. Life Orientation Test Optimistic is generally a very difficult variable to measure, but Scheier, Carver, & Bridges, (1994) undertook this challenge and created a test measuring individual‟s levels of optimism. Specifically, participants indicated the extent to which they agreed with statements such as: “If something can go wrong with me, it will.”, and responded using a 5-point scale that

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ranged from strongly disagree to strongly agree. Accordingly, we used this test to access the amount of optimism held by our participants. Automatic Thoughts Questionnaire Netemeyer, Williamson, Burton, Biswas, Jindal, Landreth, et al (2002), developed a short 8-itme questionnaire that measured depression. Participants were asked to rate how frequently certain thoughts occurred to them over the past week on a 5-point scale ranging from not at all to all the time. These items included “What‟s wrong with me?” and “My future is bleak.” This data was then used to access our participants‟ levels of congruency with these statements. Taylor Manifest Anxiety Scale This 50-item scale was developed by Taylor (1953) to access the level of anxiety within an individual. These items consisted of statements such as: “I cannot keep my mind on one thing.” and “I feel anxiety about something or someone almost all the time.” Participants were asked to circle the statement that they held to be most true concerning them self. We later used this scale to determine the levels of anxiety within our participants. Academic Entitlement Questionnaire Kopp, Zinn, Finney, & Jurich (2010) recently developed an 8-item questionnaire that evaluated a student‟s sense of academic entitlement. Many college professors are familiar with this new found sense of entitlement in college students and Twenge also supports this claim surrounding Generation Me. Thus, we also wanted to evaluate our participants‟ levels of academic entitlement. Participants were asked to indicate the extent to which they agreed with these items using a 7-point scaled that ranged from strongly disagree to strongly agree. Items included statements such as: “Because I pay tuition, I deserve passing grades.” And “If I don‟t do well on a test the professor should make tests easier or curve grades.”

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Generation Me Scale Our Generation Me scale was developed to assess the extent to which our participants matched Twenge‟s descriptions of Generation Me (Cronbach‟s α = .66). The scale included items such as, “My basic life philosophy is „do whatever makes you happy‟ ” and “I have high expectations for my future.” Participants answered these items within a 7-point scale that ranged from strongly disagree to strongly agree. Modern Parenting Scale We also created a 16-item modern parenting scale for this present study (Cronbach‟s α = .78) that assessed whether the parents of our participants demonstrated modern parenting techniques. Parents answered these items using a 7-point scale that ranged from strongly disagree to strongly agree. Sample items included, “I rarely criticized my child” and “My child‟s happiness was the main consideration when making family decisions.” We then used this scale to access the level of modern parenting utilized by our participants‟ parents. Results Our results supported our hypotheses surrounding parental support and modern parenting strategies. Specifically, a correlational analysis demonstrated that perceived support from mothers was positively correlated with self-esteem (r = .33, p < .001), narcissism (r = .19, p = .034), and Gen Me (r= .27, p = .001). This indicates that students who had mothers with high parental support tended to be more narcissistic and have higher levels of self-esteem and Generation Me characteristics. Additionally, perceived support from fathers also correlated positively with self-esteem (r=.23, p = .007), narcissism (r=.20, p = .022), and Gen Me (r = .23, p = .006). Similarly, students who had fathers with high parental supported tended to be more narcissistic and have higher levels of self-esteem and Generation Me characteristics.

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A multiple regression analysis also indicated that modern parenting is positively correlated with narcissism (r = .42, p = .005), optimism (r= .34, p = .022) and Gen Me (r= .36, p = .016). This data suggest that parents who demonstrate modern parenting, such as treating their child like royalty, may have children who demonstrate narcissism, overly optimistic view points, and Generation Me characteristics. Our research also found negative correlations between perceived support from mothers and depression (r= -.32, p < .001) and perceived support from fathers and anxiety (r = -.22, p =.015). This suggest that students who perceived their fathers as high in parental support may have more anxiety. Furthermore, students who perceive their mothers as high in parental support may also have lower levels of depression. Discussion This study has opened the door for future research involving Generation Me and modern parenting. However, since this was a correlational study, we cannot make any causal statements about the negative effects that appear to be surrounding Generation Me and modern parenting. Consequently, it is up to future researchers to determine if the major concerns sprouting from this new generation and modern parenting style are worthy of the media‟s negative portrayal. If these claims evolve into accurate and data supported effects, today‟s generation and future generations will seriously suffer the consequences mentally, socially, and academically. Conversely, the worst that could happen concerning future research would entail the discovery of these claims being false and being merely over reported. Generally, our findings were consistent with the claims made by Twenge surrounding the impact of modern parenting on Generation Me (Twenge, 2006, 2009). In particular, our research suggests Generation Me characteristics are significantly related to modern parenting styles. This data also supports the possibility of higher parental support contributing to higher levels of

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narcissism, Generation Me characteristics, and self esteem in students. These finding further support Twenge‟s claims about today‟s generation being obsessed with the self. This analysis also found results that were marginally significant surrounding self-esteem (p = .083). This finding supports that students with higher levels of self esteem may predict a display of Generation Me characteristics or evidence of modern parenting. Our research team plans to replicate this study, but would like to use more parents and participants in the future. Furthermore, we would like to edit the modern parenting and Generation Me scales we created in an attempt to create higher validity. Accordingly, once our participant pool has been increased, we expect that our multiple regression analysis will find correlational data regarding depression and anxiety and that our marginally significant scores will be boosted into significance. We also believe that our past regression did not demonstrate a trend regarding depression and anxiety because of this limited number of participants. Furthermore we could not analyze the multiple factors that shape a person‟s levels of depression and anxiety. While only a small amount of evidence is available to support Twenge‟s view, it appears that this modern parenting style may not be the best method for our future children. Instead, this new style may lead to a nation of narcissistic, self-focused, anxiety ridden individuals. This further justifies the need for continued research in this field because the positive consequences of modern parenting are unknown. But, until this research has been produced, it may be safer for future parents to understand the potential effects involved with modern parenting.

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References Barber, B.K. (1996). Parental psychological control: Revisiting a neglected construct. Child Development, 67, 3296-3319. Baumrind, D. (1967) Child care practices anteceding three patterns of preschool behavior. Genetic Psychology Monographs, 75(1), 43-88. Campbell, W.K., Bonacci, A. M., Shelton, J., Exline, J. J., and Bushman, B. J. (2004). Psychological entitlement: Interpersonal consequences and validation of a new self-report measure. Journal of Personality Assessment, 83, 29-45. Kopp, J.P, Zinn, T.E., Finney, S.J., & Jurich, D.P (2010). The development and evaluation of the Academic Entitlement Questionnaire. Manuscript submitted for publication. Lamborn, S.D., Mounts, N.S>, Steinberg, L., & Dornbusch, S. M. (1991). Pattens of competence and adjustment among adolescents from authoritative, authoritarian, indulgent and neglectful families. Child Development, 62, 1049-1065. Netemeyer, R. G., Williamson, D. A., Burton, S., Biswas, D., Jindal, S., Landreth, S., et al. (2002). Psychometric properties of shortened versions of the Automatic Thoughts Questionnaire. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 62, 111-129. Ramsey, A., Watson, P. J., Biderman, M. D., & Reeves, A. L. (1996). Self reported narcissism and parental permissiveness and authoritarianism. The Journal of Genetic Psychology. 157(2), 227-238. Ratskin, R. N., and Terry, H. (1988). A principal-component analysis of the Narcisstic Personality Inventory and further evidence of its construct validity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54, 890-902. Rosenberg, M. (1965). Society and the adolescent self-image. Princeton, NJ: Princeton

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University Press. Schaefer, E.S. (1965). A configuraitonal analysis of children's report of parental behavior. Journal of Consulting Psychology, 29, 552-557. Scheier, M. F., Carver, C. S., & Bridges, M. W. (1994). Distinguishing optimism from neuroticism (and trait anxiety, self-mastery, and self-esteem): A reevaluation of the Life Orientation Test. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67, 1063-1078. Taylor, J. A. (1953). A personality scale of manifest anxiety: The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 48(2) 285-290. Twenge, J. M. (2006). Generation me: Why today’s young Americans are more confident, assertive, entitled – and more miserable than ever before. New York, NY: Free Press. Twenge, J.M., & Campbell, W. K. (2009). The narcissism epidemic: Living in the age of entitlement. New York: Free Press.

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