The Age of Entitlement: Nurturing ‘Generation Me’

Information and quotes from “Value Added”, by Tim Johnson (Canadian Family, April 2010)

Have you ever dressed your little one in a pint-sized shirt that reads “Princess,” or “Spoiled,” or “I’m the Boss?” If so, you may be unwittingly building the ranks of what experts call “Generation Me.”

Generation Me includes today’s youth, described by educators as possessing “an inflated sense of entitlement while offering those around them less of the basic respect, politeness and sense of responsibility displayed by previous generations.”

Some of the behaviour is minor, such as tossing garbage on the floor and expecting others to clean up after them. Other examples – such as outbursts and acts of violence – can lead to bigger issues.

Last year, about 2000 Ontario university faculty and librarians surveyed said first year students exhibit less maturity, have fewer independent learning skills and hold “an expectation of success without the requisite effort.”

The same trends are being noticed in the workplace. Managers have noted that that their young employees possess less of a work ethic and take less pride in what they do. Another common complaint is that younger workers show fewer soft skills than the generations before them.

But how did Generation Me come to be? Part of the reason is that parents have less time to spend with their kids – especially in the case of single parent or dual-earner households. Statistics Canada reported that the amount of time workers spent with their families dropped 20 percent between 1986-2005. Some experts, though, suggest the issue is more complicated.

Many parents balk at instilling absolute rules. Children are often placed at the centre of the household and are allowed to dictate what they’d like to do rather than being told what to do. As well, they are taught that their needs surpass those of others. A reluctance toward absolute leadership comes into play when parents try to befriend their kids instead of being an authority figure.

Dr. Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University and co-author of The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement (Free Press), says her 25 years of research indicates the trend toward self-absorption and a sense of entitlement has increased 30 percent since 1979. And guess what: those cute “Princess” and “Spoiled” t-shirts are part of the problem.

Still not convinced? Consider that Canadian schools are shifting their curriculum so that teachers are now responsible for instilling in kids morals that parents used to teach at home. The programs are called “character development” and focus on teaching universally basic and accepted values such as respect, responsibility and honesty. The program was put together with input from ethnic, religious and community groups and all boards in Ontario are using this as their model. And even though teachers have to try and squeeze character development classes into the crowded curriculum, many don’t mind if it means the results are more responsible, respectful students.

Something to keep in mind the next time people comment on junior’s adorable “I’m the Boss” t-shirt.

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