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iGens 3

posted by Scot McKnight


Twengepic.jpg

We are doing a series now on the fantastic book called Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled–and More Miserable Than Ever Before
by Jean Twenge.

We continue with her chp that sketches how cultural shifts indicate that iGens don’t care about social approval. She deals with manners and politeness. “Most of us,” Twenge (an iGener herself), “were never taught the rules of etiquette.” (This reminds me of a really nice book I read called Say Please, Say Thank You
.) Twice I used this book with college first year students and, while they thought some of it was a bit below their dignity, much of it led to fruitful conversation.

Do you think there has been a recent decline in basic morals? basic human decencies?

What’s involved: basic consideration of others; respect for social customs. It can be seen when from the 1990s to 2000s those who paid the suggested fee at a Catholic church for a votive candle decreased from 92% to 28%. School cheating. In 1992 61% said they cheated; in 2002, 74% said they cheated. In 1969 only 34% said they cheated. Not everyone cheats; the key point is that there is a trend at work to ignore basic decencies.


Twenge sees the Boomer “question authority” to have gone too far with iGens — demonstrably so in numbers and observations. She speaks here about parental authority, observes demonstrable changes in its developing lack, and concludes with this: “I wonder what will happen when this generation has their own children. Will they continue the move toward lesser parental authority, or insist that they retain the authority they have grown accustomed to?” (31) Think about this question of hers: the sharing of authority is a form of authority granted to a younger person that will either be shared or insisted upon…. 

Marriage … she explores the change of all previous customs. She sees changes in mixed marriages (which she applauds), and colors at weddings, and who stands with whom … she’s not too big on this stuff but observes that weddings have become opportunities for self-expression.
Religion too. Back to Melissa: “Everybody has their own idea of God and what God is … You have your own personal beliefs of how you feel about it and what’s acceptable for you and what’s right for you personally” (34). One young Catholic woman stopped believing because “feeling guilty made me unhappy” (35). She picks on fundamentalists for having too personal of a view of faith.
And trust of others… In 1976 46% of high schoolers said they could trust most people; by 1997 that number was at 26%. Older folks still trust. Her conclusion: “GenMe trusts no one … Trusting no one and relying on yourself is a self-fulfilling prophecy in an individualistic world where the prevailing sentiment is ‘Do unto others before they do it to you'” (36).
And making everything public, like the recent 25 things about me on Facebook (which she doesn’t mention), but which is found for her in chat rooms where people say things that are sometimes called TMI (too much information). And being far too direct with others you may not know or may know … and so much cussing and so much public loudness on cell phones.
The big issue here: the scale of the need for social approval, in itself neither good nor bad, is on a decline. 2001 folks scored at 38th percentile of folks in 1958.
Her conclusion: “Generation Me believes, with a conviction that approaches boredom because it is so undisputed, that the individual comes first” (43).


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Jennifer

posted February 11, 2009 at 1:12 am


Everything she says may be true…but she is under-applying it. Its not just young people who talk on the cell phone too loudly, post too much information on facebook, cheat when they think they can get away with it. She may be pointing out legitimate issues, but it seems unfair to apply them to young people when older people seem to do them just as much.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted February 11, 2009 at 1:41 am


William Strauss and Neil Howe believe they see an ebb and flow in parenting habits. There is a swing between too much indulgence and too much discipline. Too protective and too little protection. As the swing goes to excess, parents begin to alter their parenting until that swings to excess. S & H would say:
G.I. Gen (1901-1925): Increasing protectiveness for kids
Silent Gen (1925-1942): Smothered as kids
Baby Boom (1943-1960): Lessening of protectiveness
Gen X (1961-1981): Abandonment (latch-key kids)
Millennials (1982-2001?) Increasing protectiveness for kids
Current children (2001?-Present): Smothered



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Diane

posted February 11, 2009 at 7:58 am


Jennifer,
I agree with you about singling out youth. And Michael, there’s an older book–by Stone?–that talks about the pendulum swing in parenting across centuries: more indulgent in the 16th century, strict in the 17th, more indulgent in the 18th, strict in the 19th, etc.
A snapshot of this kind of social change can be found by comparing the 1940s Father of the Bride to the 1990s remake. In the earlier movie, the parents are very concerned about how they will be accepted and liked by others–they want approval, they want to make a good impression; in the 1990s version the parents only concerned about whether THEY will like, approve of, and accept others. It flips from “will we be good enough” to “is everyone else good enough?” Is this good or bad? The earlier attitude is more charming!



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Chad Hall

posted February 11, 2009 at 8:57 am


The pendulum swing of parenting reminds me of another generational observation: that millennials will swing back to look more like Builders (or whatever the pre-Boomer generation is called) in that they will show stronger community loyalty and greater responsibility and stronger devotion to family and other institutions. I came across this was back when everyone was interested in Gen X – you know the good old days.
I cannot recall now where exactly I read this, but I saw it from enough sources back 5 or 10 years ago that it became a given for me. Twenge seems to be contradicting this notion. Hmmm.
Do others recall seeing Millennials-Builders comparison?



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joanne

posted February 11, 2009 at 9:51 am


I love this generation. I think they have great potential. Not caring about the prevailing social construct has its merits. My children are this age… they are attracted to a radical Jesus and an amazing kingdom. I love it that they don’t think party line, the potential exists for fascinating discussions that are thoughtful and intelligent.



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Chris E

posted February 11, 2009 at 10:37 am


I see the vanguard of the iGens having real trouble as new parents. I have a number of friends in their early- to mid-30s (I’m a touch older) and these friends pretty much all really struggle with 2 things. (1) The kids cramp their style and it is an ongoing, bothersome problem for them, especially the mothers, and (2) they struggle to set meaningful, firm boundaries for their children frequently leading to their children becoming social pariahs (and a great annoyance to their own parents). Yes, all parents have struggled with these things, but I think this generation has bigger problems. There are many possible issues, but a self-centered approach to life may be exacerbating the general issues.



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ChrisB

posted February 11, 2009 at 10:55 am


“iGens don’t care about social approval”
… from their elders.
“Most of us…were never taught the rules of etiquette.”
True here too.
“Do you think there has been a recent decline in basic morals?”
Absolutely. Which kind of explains why iGens don’t trust anyone.
“public loudness on cell phones…”
A few years ago I (and half the world) overheard this lovely young 20-something woman having a conversation she should have been embarrassed to even have using language that would make a sailor blush in a very loud voice over her cell on a bus. It’s all too common. People seem to think a cell phone conversation is as private as one that takes place in your home. It’s not.



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Julie Clawson

posted February 11, 2009 at 11:11 am


so from your summaries – she doesn’t like the shift to valuing authenticity. All the things she mentions demonstrate a desire to be open and authentic instead of putting forth the facade others want to see. Like manners for the sake of manners (as opposed to manners for the sake of relationships) or deriding people sharing their life with others instead of keeping quiet and presenting a lie about who they are.
my question is – is being oneself openly more or less self-centered than abiding strictly to the majority mores in order to win approval?



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Karl

posted February 11, 2009 at 11:36 am


How about manners for the sake of treating others the way you would like to be treated? Loving others as yourself?
I had a friend in college who put great stock in being authentic. He wasn’t going to be “fake” and act nice to others just because it was expected. He hated fake people, with their fake smiles, etc. So instead he just acted like a jerk. I think there’s something to be said for being polite and kind and thoughtful of others, even when we “authentically” feel like being a jerk.
Complete fake-ness isn’t the only alternative to being a narcissistic, self centered person who cares nothing for the social mores or cultural sensitivities of those around her and in the name of her individuality goes around not caring who she offends or how. I also don’t see either this author or Scot as saying that manners = an inability to be oneself and share one’s life with others.



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Matt

posted February 11, 2009 at 12:23 pm


Maybe the change isn’t so much a decline in the need for social approval, but a redefinition of what makes up society.
Our world is more globalized than that of the previous generations. Young people have daily interactions with countless varying social groups through platforms like YouTube, and it raises questions like “What is my social group?” “To whose mores do I conform?” “Who should have input regarding the appropriateness of my behavior?”
I don’t think “the decline of social decency” is do to increased narcissism (young people throughout history have been narcissistic), but to a redefinition of society. One effect of globalization is the tightening of the social group. People no longer think in terms of what is acceptable in their town, state, or country, because they receive mixed messages from these communities. I think young people may be redefining their social group as their peers, their families, and the brands to which they are loyal (i.e. MTV, Hannah Montana, or whichever brand with which they indentify themselves).



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ChrisB

posted February 11, 2009 at 1:17 pm


Julie,
I don’t think manners are about being “fake.”
Manners are restricting your behavior for the sake of those around you. The lack of manners isn’t authenticity as much as the lack of self-control.



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Julie Clawson

posted February 11, 2009 at 1:18 pm


Karl – that’s what I meant by manners for the sake of relationship. I can teach my kids to say please in a perfunctory manner. They say it because it is expected of them regardless if they mean it or just think it is truly a magic word that will get them what they want. Or I can encourage them to truly consider other’s feelings and use please in its intended context of “if it pleases you.” Its a lot harder to teach that – so do i push rote manners for the sake of manners first or do I let it take longer and teach them to value people first (even if that means some old lady at the grocery store gets offended that my kids don’t say the right words that she wants to hear?
Or do I teach my daughter to be quiet, to never directly address men, to never betray her feelings, and to always wear dresses to church, to never be too smart, to serve men first always, and to never ever ever disagree with others like I was taught all well behaved women do?
This isn’t about being a jerk or not. But about doing things for the right reasons.



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Karl

posted February 11, 2009 at 2:41 pm


Julie – as a parent if it’s too early to teach with subtlety the reasons behind the behavior I still find it works best to teach and require the behavior (if the child is able to understand what’s required and it’s fair to expect developmentally), and then follow up later with the “why” behind it and the concern for others that is involved, etc. My kids were able to “get” the idea of manners being primarily about whether our hearts are oriented towards what’s best or pleasant for others, at a fairly young age. But even then it came in the context of “do you know why we always make you do such-and-such?” rather than in the context of “I know you’ve never had to consistently do such-and-such before, but now . . .
Of course there’s a scale of what can reasonably be expected of a 2 year old vs. a 4 year old vs. an 8, 10 or 12 year old. Both in terms of actual compliance, and in terms of understanding the reasons behind “good manners.” But I don’t think the book or the initial post are about little children and their manners, anyway. I agree with you that it’s far better to do what’s right for the right reasons. But if a person can’t get the reasons right, I’d still prefer she not shout into her cell phone next to my ear when we ride the train together.



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Travis Greene

posted February 11, 2009 at 3:29 pm


Do you think there has been a recent decline in basic morals? basic human decencies?
No. Didn’t we have a series about doom and gloom a few months back? I think if you asked African-Americans, for instance, about basic human decencies, they’ve experienced a big improvement in their experience over the last few decades (of course I’m not saying it’s perfect, but being able to enter the front door of a restaurant without being attacked by dogs is surely an improvement).
“School cheating. In 1992 61% said they cheated; in 2002, 74% said they cheated. In 1969 only 34% said they cheated.”
Maybe we’re just more honest about cheating now.
I agree with the folks talking about a pendulum swing in these kinds of things. There were no Golden Ages (well, you know…just the one).



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Tony Hunt

posted February 11, 2009 at 4:34 pm


We still have “Minnesota Nice” up here in the Twin Cities, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Even a coerced nice is better than an east-coast rudeness.
I agree with Travis, I think that we (I am 25) are simply more honest about “cheating” and other things than previous generations. I think of the nice “two bed” situation on old tv shows. Those stars were just as much into debauchery as our celebrities, but the TV reinforced the American WASP (white anglo-saxon protestant) ideal. We have “reality” tv now.
To be frank, and I find myself agreeing with several older (and wiser) commentators than me…if iGen’s are what they are it is due in large part to the failure of the parents/families who raised them in such a way. To be spoiled is to be a narcissist.



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Eric

posted February 11, 2009 at 6:01 pm


I agree that the IGen generation is different — in bad *and* good ways — from prior generations, but I’ve seen them beat up too much and stereotyped. Here is a question that I would like to pose, not to offend anyone, but because it gets at why these posts concern me: What is the difference between posing the following questions: “Tell me 5 things you like and 5 things you don’t like about IGen people” vs. “Tell me 5 things you like and 5 things you don’t like about black people.” The latter would not be acceptable. Why is the former acceptable?
In my mind, whether it is fair game to raise such questions about IGen’ers goes to why we are asking the question. If it is to figure out, for example, why IGen’ers are dropping out of church, then I think it is ok. But a lot of this discussion just seems like stereotyping for the sake of stereotyping. I’ve seen it for years, and it just makes whatever perceived problems there are in the IGen generation worse, because it turns them off even more to the older folks (and with good reason!)



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Travis Greene

posted February 11, 2009 at 9:54 pm


Tell me 5 things you like and 5 things you don’t like about iGen people.
Tell me 5 things you like and 5 things you don’t like about black people.
Tell me 5 things you like and 5 things you don’t like about old people.
Tell me 5 things you like and 5 things you don’t like about blind people.
Tell me 5 things you like and 5 things you don’t like about Finnish people.
Tell me 5 things you like and 5 things you don’t like about gay people.
Tell me 5 things you like and 5 things you don’t like about fat people.
Tell me 5 things you like and 5 things you don’t like about Jewish people.
Tell me 5 things you like and 5 things you don’t like about church people.



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Rebeccat

posted February 11, 2009 at 11:53 pm


I’m on the front end of this Geni thing, I guess (I’m 35). And I find that many of the foibles of young folks are greatly exaggerated. Sure you can find narcissistic twits who talk too loudly on their phones, put TMI on their facebook pages, refuse to be polite, etc. However, I’m on facebook and haven’t seen anyone in my circle which includes a lot of 20 somethings, put up anything much more revealing than “I cry when I hear patriotic songs”. Some of the loudest cell-phone talkers I’ve seen are middle aged women. Etc.
What I do see as a real hallmark of this generation is a complete lack of trust in authority, institutions, rules, etc. And the lack of trust can lead to lack of respect (not necessarily meaning being rude, just not kow-towing to it). Yet, if we look realistically around us, there often isn’t a whole lot that deserves respect. And if those authorities and institutions which are support to provide direction and structure to our lives aren’t trustworthy, then it only makes sense that people would set about trying to create their own ideas about how things should be. Which can make an unsightly mess, to be sure. Yet one would hope that out of this mess, some good ideas about how to put a worthwhile life together will emerge.
Just as an illustration; one of the questions which Twenge uses to demonstrate the supposed narcissism of this generation is: “I think that the world would be a better place if I were in charge.” Apparently those answering in the affirmative has sky-rocketed in recent years. The thing is that I would answer the question in the affirmative. But I would also answer it in the affirmative if they asked if we’d be better off with my brother or my next-door neighbor or Doogie Howser or my dog or hamster were in charge. I would posit that much of what appears to be narcissism or strong self-confidence is simply people trying to fill the gaping holes where trustworthy authority and passed down wisdom used to dwell. If the only thing you know you can depend on is yourself, then you are likely to build a life centered on what you think can depend on. Not the best solution, but it’s a problem human beings haven’t had to deal with in quite some time.



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Rebeccat

posted February 12, 2009 at 12:07 am


Tony Hunt,
I live in the Twin Cities Metro area as well, but as a transplant, I must say that “Minnesota Nice” ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. Often it’s just a front for being passive aggressive or avoiding (sometimes necessary) confrontation. After being up here for 10 years, I’ve had about all I can take of “Minnesota Nice”. (And for the record, I am a very polite person myself – or at least I try to be.) I often tell people that up here you don’t have to worry that someone’s going to get mad and cuss you out, but they also won’t stop and help you if you get stuck on the side of the road. Back in Chicago, you may well get cussed out now and again, but if you get a flat tire, at least 2 or 3 cars will pull over to help you out. Learned that lesson the hard way back when I was younger and poorer.
Sometimes being polite really is a sorry facade that people substitute for being decent human beings. (Not that there aren’t decent human beings in the twin cities, just that “Minnesota nice” isn’t the evidence of their existence.)



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Tony Hunt

posted February 12, 2009 at 4:40 am


Rebeccat,
I’d pull over to help you :)



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Ted M. Gossard

posted February 12, 2009 at 5:30 am


I tend to think it’s more or less the days we live in and what our culture has become. Rude, in your face.
But I see grace, signs of God’s grace, perhaps common grace at work as well. An emphasis in some circles with relationships. Of course the young are the young. Like most of us they have to learn what little they really do know.



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Aquari

posted February 12, 2009 at 12:29 pm


I second what Rebeccat says (as someone at the other end of that generation). People my age are individualists because we feel we have no other real choice. There is nothing outside ourselves that we feel safe relying on. Families and friends all move away, or else we move away, out of economic and educational necessity. Employment is always a temporary situation. Institutions and ideologies are prone to corruption.
In the spiritual sphere, I hear many people of our generation lament that there is no one to guide or comfort us once we come up against the ‘hard questions’ – taking absolutely for granted that the answers handed down to us from earlier generations are no longer useful, if they ever really were. Self-sufficiency is a burden, because in the end we find out that our selves – no matter how carefully strengthened and polished – are never sufficient. But we don’t feel we have a real alternative.
We’ve been taught that needing no-one’s approval or direction is the hallmark of the mature individual. Much of the thrust of our education has been that ‘peer pressure’ and obedience to flawed authorities is the root of all evil; the hero is the person who stands against public opinion and defies the powerful. You’re a fool if you respect or obey authority – at best you’ll be disappointed, at worst be co-opted into participating in some institutional evil. (Why do you think Obama evokes so much hope and so much defensive cynicism at once – ‘Dare we believe this one might be different?’)
Why, for that matter, do you think so much of our popular children’s literature carries the theme of ‘the adults can’t be made to understand the real threats we face, so we children will have to deal with it on our own?’ It speaks to our experience.
So we throw out the script that has been handed us, and try to improvise our own. Of course the results are shoddy – they’re the work of amateurs with no experience. But we’re trying our best, already, to do what we were told it was our life’s task to do.



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Rebeccat

posted February 12, 2009 at 10:40 pm


Tony, too bad you weren’t on 494 near Inver Grove Heights some years ago. Or in the parking lot outside Old Navy in Plymouth. Or on 94 outside of Woodbury. :) When we first moved up here we were very young and had two beaters (then one) that broke down ever 5 or 6 months. And we couldn’t afford cell phones. Once after being stuck on the side of 494 for an hour and a half with a 3 year old, I grabbed a diaper, got out and flagged down a semi. I was new to town and had no idea where I was. I think I spent the first 2 years until we managed to get a better car asking my husband, “what kind of hell-hole have you moved us to?”



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Tony Hunt

posted February 13, 2009 at 4:58 am


I’m sorry for all that. Funny thing is, now with cell phones and all, I have stopped for people on the road at least a dozen times and their like “No I’m fine, called up my buddy and he’s on the way”
I still love Minnesota though.



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