Joseph Cotto, 4/5/2016 [Archive]

The Big Problem with Generation Y

By Joseph Cotto

Americans are concerned about our country's future.

When these fears are voiced, however, they are usually phrased in economic terms or jargon used to describe hot-button social issues. Rarely do we hear much about the people who will build, or perhaps erode, the United States in years to come.

As a group, these individuals constitute 'Generation Y'.

BusinessDictionary.com defines this as "(t)he generation of people born during the 1980s and early 1990s. The name is based on Generation X, the generation that preceded them." It is also mentioned that Generation Y members, sometimes dubbed 'Millennials', "have had constant access to technology (computers, cell phones) in their youth".

There is much more to the story, though — more than what a dictionary can explain.

For one reason or another, some people really do believe that the world revolves around them. Why do they buy into such nonsense? The answer remains elusive. Nonetheless, this mentality has caught on with Generation Y.

With it comes extreme emotional sensitivity toward opposing views, the tendency for young adults to dress like they were in elementary school, and growing disregard for the wisdom of elders.

None of this even touches on the soaring out-of-wedlock birthrate. According to a recent Johns Hopkins University study, 57 percent of mothers between the ages of 26 and 31 give birth without being married. One can only imagine the percentage for 18-to-25-year-old women.

"(F)or all its positives, in some ways, technology has had many negative impacts on Generation Y," Dr. Tim Elmore, bestselling author and founder of a nonprofit group which fosters leadership skills among young adults, mentioned to me. "This is the first generation of kids who, because of technology, don't need adults for information. The result is a generation of kids who know too much, too soon, with no context to process the information....They have content without context."

With this climate of psychological turmoil has come a curious trend.

In 2007, Dr. Jean Twenge, an academic of psychology at San Diego State University, published Generation Me. Her book, which became hugely popular, explained the social dilemmas often faced by Generation Y. As co-author of The Narcissism Epidemic, she outlined how self-absorption is changing America's cultural landscape.

"This isn't a matter of agreeing or disagreeing, as empirical studies have answered this question," Dr. Twenge told me. "These studies are unequivocal and numerous. Eleven studies show a generational increase in narcissism. They include respondents from high school age to adults...Five of these studies compare GenY with their predecessors at the same age...Nine additional studies show increases in positive self-views."

Strange. Despite being more confident than their elders, members of Generation Y, on average, suffer from higher rates of depression. Can this paradox be explained?

"It could be two different segments of the generation," Dr. Twenge noted. "There may be one group who's more confident and another that's more depressed. Or it could often be the same people at two different points in time, as overconfidence can lead to depression when unrealistic expectations are not fulfilled."

Everyone is self-interested by nature.

This is an essential component of survival; ordained by evolutionary biology yet castigated by moralistic crusaders. Needless to say, sometimes these crusaders have a point, specifically when self-interest loses its rational anchor and delves into the pit of self-absorption.

Generation Y has a difficult problem with this.

One only need watch Millennials walk down the street, heads bent down as they experience life via their smart phones. Total reliance on social media has led untold millions — if not billions — to make a spectacle out of the mundane. Individual opinions, apparel choices, and mood swings get treated as headline news.

People, especially if young, have developed an inflated sense of their own worth. Perhaps deep down, in a subconscious fashion, they acknowledge this. Hence high self-esteem coinciding with major depression and assorted emotional tribulations.

Whatever the case, this situation paints a dark picture of our country's horizon.

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Copyright 2016 Joseph Cotto, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Joseph Cotto is a historical and social journalist, and writes about politics, economics and social issues. Email him at joseph.f.cotto@gmail.com.

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