We Are Special

January 17, 2013

A recent study has found what many of us have observed for some time. College students think they are special. One newspaper put it this way: “If you asked a college freshman today who the Greatest Generation is, they might respond by pointing in a mirror.” The study documented young people’s unprecedented level of self-infatuation.

Psychologist Jean Twenge found that over the last four decades of research on college freshman, there has been a dramatic rise in self-confidence. For example, they describe themselves as “above average” in academic ability and in their personal lives. The problem is that there is a stark disconnect between their opinions of themselves and their actual ability.

I have quoted Jean Twenge before in other studies that she has done. For example, she has found that students suffer from what she calls “ambition inflation.” As their ambition increases, it reaches levels of unrealistic expectations. She has also found in another study that there has been a 30 percent increase toward narcissism in students since 1979.

The changing culture is part of the reason for this dramatic change. She explains: “Our culture used to encourage modesty and humility and not bragging about yourself.” If someone did that in the past, we called that person “stuck-up” or conceited. Today the culture often rewards such attitudes and behavior.

I would also argue that social media encourages and accentuates this trend. Students posting pictures of themselves on Facebook and Instagram, uploading videos on YouTube, and leaving numerous comments on Twitter receive positive feedback for such behavior. These technologies provide additional vehicles to feed their narcissism.

These studies remind us that this generation needs guidance from pastors and parents so they can apply biblical perspectives on success, humility, and self-image. I’m Kerby Anderson, and that’s my point of view.