‘Generation Me:’ Living the Lives We’ve Taught them to Lead

Lena Dunham created HBO’s popular series “Girls,” which doesn’t hide the selfishness of the twenty-something Brooklynites. The show perfectly depicts what a “Me Generation” really looks like.

Over at The Gospel Coalition, Glenn Stanton has written a fascinating article analyzing research comparing the relative civic-mindedness of Baby Boomers, Generation X (my generation, by the way), and the Millennials. Stanton takes on the seemingly universally-held view that Millennials are “[t]he most community service-minded, action-oriented, let’s change-the-world-generation alive today, perhaps in the history of our nation. Generation We.”

Turns out it’s not true. By virtually every measure, the Millennials are less community-minded than the preceding generations were at equivalent ages, sometimes dramatically so. One of the most jolting measures is the low rate of military service, with the present generation only a third as likely to serve as the generation before.

In other words, the longstanding lament of the older generation regarding “kids these days” may actually have some merit. “Kids these days” – measured by their actions – are more selfish than at any time in recent history.

But lest we pile on the kids too much, let’s not forget that they’re living the lives we’ve taught them to live. We may have been less-selfish kids, but are we less-selfish adults? Let’s look at my own generation’s track record:

-For almost a full decade before 2008, by our actions we taught our kids that you can and should buy whatever you want, whenever you want (on credit, no less), and when our own individual decisions to over-extend resulted in an inevitable economic crash, then the sole blame rested with far-away bankers and regulators – who apparently should have stopped us from getting what we so obviously wanted. Yet the crash of 2008 wasn’t just the government’s fault, or the bankers’ fault, it was also our fault. Millions of bad mortgages require millions of bad decisions – decisions we made and are now only too happy to blame on others.

-After 2001, we taught our kids that the right response to the deadliest attack on American soil was, well, not much more than going shopping, thanking a soldier, and maybe – just maybe – tying a yellow ribbon on a mailbox or sending a care package overseas. For more than a decade, the vast majority of my generation stood on the sidelines cheering on the tiny minority who’ve risked their lives time and time again to keep us safe. Not everyone can serve, but how could so few even consider putting on the uniform?

-As illegitimacy rates soar, and divorce remains rampant, millions of parents teach their kids that you never really do grow up, that sexual fulfillment matters more than fidelity, and that your own happiness matters more than the lives around us. The principles of the sexual revolution are quickly supplanting the ideals of the American Revolution as the defining moral characteristics of our Republic.

-We teach our children that the suffering of those around us is someone else’s problem, and that we do enough for our fellow man if we merely support and vote for our ever-expanding (and destructive) welfare state while maybe, just maybe, writing a (modest) check or two ourselves.

-We devalue true virtue and hard work by over-praising our kids’ slightest accomplishments, sheltering them from even the smallest consequences of sin, and grant them grace on the cheap – all in the name of love.

If the youngest generation truly is “Generation Me” – and the data indicates it is – then we can respond by wringing our hands about “kids these days,” or we can do what we should: Repent of our own sins and resolve to model the selflessness that we long to see in our own children.

Simply put, “Generation Me” is really my generation, as we’ve taught them to live. Shame on them for being selfish?

No, shame on us.

 This post first ran in The Christian Post.
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  • Kristen inDallas

    Okay first of all the whole “generation” thing is bogus. Take it from someone who was born in 1980 and has durring the course of my life been categorized as Gen X, Gen Y, Generation Next, but NOT Millenial, even though everyone seems to imply that Millenial is just the new name for Gen Y. They rewrite the boundary years in just about every study ever done, so the entire discussion is meaningless. You can prove whatever you want to prove by shifting the cutoff. Want to prove one generation is wealthier than another? just figure out what year Mark Zuckerberg was orn and make sure he’s in that group.

    Second of all, the study you’re looking at offers very few objective measures, and the ones it seems to rely on are very suspect. 1) Military service – might it be they’re expecting a US-centric version of “community” rather than a more global outlook? Plus it ignores some very crucial differences in the evolution of our military – the first two generations expirienced a draft, Millenials have only ever known unofficial “conflicts” and no legitimately congressionally sanctioned wars. 2) Voting and donating to political causes – again this measure assumes that Millenials believe that voting and giving money to power hungry ego-maniacs is a good way to build a community but just aren’t doing it. Perhaps they care more about donating to a friends kickstarter or unheard of non-profit than to some super-pac. Perhaps they’d rather march for life than canvass a neighborhood to “get out the vote.” The problem is each generation tries to measure the next by it’s own broken standards. The fact is, every generation will have some successful individuals and some less successful, and each generation will have a new idea about what it means to make the world a better place. (None of them are quite “right” BTW). If you have to measure it at all, at least use the generation’s own standards against or figure out what they ARE doing instead of what they aren’t doing. Other wise it looks like the ex-hippies going around and declaring everyone a consumerist because we’ve chosen not to go live in communes and smoke a bunch of pot.

  • some 23 year old

    my generation has no interest in joining the military because we know it’s bullshit, we’d rather not risk our lives and murder people over corporate interests, such as oil or what have you

  • Lee

    23 ~ you still determine your future thank goodness. Our military is too big and is out of control. Twas afraid that the ladies-in-combat initiative was a sneaky move into mandatory nat service. Also thank goodness some people do like the order of serving in the military, it is not something we need to lose altogther. Yet re Iraq/Afghan, I cannot express how much I regret voting for W. I have learned from Mr. Ron Paul that having this massive standing world police is an instrument of the global elite merchant class. This author makes such sweeping generalizations…my crowd of parents and I never allowed our kids to think they buy whatever they wanted! Plus I know so many young people in their early 20s who are not selfish in the least. Plus aren’t teens, by nature often very self-absorbed?

    While it was good that royalty ended in France, those who capitalized and organized that world event were the early communists. It is amazing how even today they exist in the world of Communitarianism, which is now using very stealthy wholesome sounding measures to sock it to the mindsets of young people – sapping their individuality and inner strengthn – to be part of Volunteerism! Go ahead and volunteer, but do not do it for a living like the outrageous numbers of bright young things working for the endless parade of non profits. Be a good, honest capitalist. :)