The Plagued Parent

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Beware the Millennial Apocalypse

Not so long ago I had to face the fact that I fathered a narcissist with a capital “N”. I am not alone. It would seem that many of us responsible for bringing children into the world over the past twenty years have raised, well, assholes.

We didn’t do this on purpose.
awardWe had the best of intentions when we volunteered in the classroom from pre-school to eighth grade. We meant no harm when we asked our children their opinions as youngsters regarding where they wanted to go for dinner, or family vacations, or what movie they’d like to rent. We had only their fragile self-esteem in mind when we supported the trophies, ribbons and medals just for showing up. We certainly didn’t foresee the tremendous consequence of filming their every bodily function when getting them their very first smartphone all those years ago; besides they needed it so they could contact us if they missed the bus, or got lost, or needed to talk over some critical middle school decision in the making.

No, we were pure of heart in our intentions. But still, for the most part, and unbeknownst to ourselves, we raised some terrific and terrifying assholes.

too many selfiesThe narcissism that runs rampant through that particular demographic known as the Millennials (someone born from roughly the mid-1990s to the present) really isn’t anything new. Come on, teenagers suck and they’ve always sucked. And nothing sucks more than an entitled and empowered one with a goddamn smartphone — thank you Apple. The existing opinion that their generational narcissism is worse than it has ever been is somewhat mythic in proportion. That being said, I believe that the most dire narcissistic tendencies in these young adults is notably exacerbated by the technology that surrounds us, and given this fact their narcissism and ensuing entitlement which follows become far more rampantly disturbing in our current cultural context.

Look at it this way: an asshole with a picket sign will reach far fewer people than one with a bullhorn; replace the bull horn with the World Wide Web and you’ve got an asshole with global reach, a mutant asshole. In short you’ve equipped a narcissistic leaning personality with the ability to take center stage anytime he or she wants via Twitter, Tumbler, Instagram, YouTube etc.

millennial are connected to their devices

To be fair, we are all narcissistic to some degree. Evolutionarily speaking, we need to be otherwise we’d shrink from most forms of conflict and become extinct. What’s become dangerous however is the prevailing attitude that one’s own opinions, beliefs, assumptions and biases require — no deserve —  special dispensations when confronted and challenged.

A case in point. To provide context, I teach at the college level. A colleague of mine posted a letter, two letters actually, involving a complaint against a law professor by his students (check it out here; you really should read it). The initial letter was a 3-page complaint purportedly by a “number” of first year law students — I say purportedly since the letter was sent anonymously. The complaint centered around an objection to the professor wearing a “Black Lives Matter” t-shirt in class.

Now on its face the letter appears to have some merit, however it does not.  Upon reading the professor’s reply you begin to realize how out of line and disrespectful the student complaint is. You begin to realize the deep petrie dish of narcissism out of which the fungus of complaint has grown. What struck me most of all was the professor’s observation that the myopic and self-centered “complaint” offered no specific remedy for the “wrong” he supposedly inflicted.

This brought to mind several student complaints I have received in recent years. In almost every case the students never suggests a remedy. Last semester two students went directly to my chair to inform her that one of my chosen texts was “too hard”.  In my office, she remarked, “I’m still not sure what they expected me to do about it.”

Which led me to the conclusion that what these students wanted was for someone in authority above me to tell them that they didn’t have to do the work. Partially due to their misguided and immature narcissistic attitude, they expected my chair to read their minds, offer a solution and implement it for them.

In a more frightening case, I’ve been accused of violating individual religious beliefs by requiring that students read objectionable and profane material. The charge was levied against a collection of short stories entitled “Say You’re One of Them” by Nigerian writer Uwem Akpan. Because the first story in the book details the life of a street family in Nairobi whose 14-year old daughter prostitutes herself so they can survive, I was therefore deemed by one student as being morally, spiritually and ethically derelict for offering the story up for discussion and analysis.

Ironically, Akpan is a Jesuit priest and a pastor in his native Nigeria. I wonder how he would have felt knowing that charge was levied against myself and his work? The complaint went nowhere but nonetheless rattled me somewhat due to the fact that the student emailed my chair, a number of deans, various vice-presidents, the college president and (weirdly enough) the governor of the state. All that was needed for my career to end would have been for one of them to take the kook seriously. Thankfully that did not happen.

It would seem that data supports the fact that on college campuses those with narcissistic personalities are more likely to violate academic standards by plagiarizing and cheating. They are also more likely to make false claims against professors that they dislike or feel have treated them unfairly or impede their progress through the institution.

Admittedly, I am not a psychological professional. And by no means am I suggesting the presence of a disorder of epic magnitude. What I am suggesting is that the parenting styles we engage in, the concept of student as customer/consumer, the prevalence of social media and technology, and the persistent mantra of “you’re so very special” may be having cultural consequences.

We seem to have, in the words of Joel Stein writing for Time Magazine, a “stunted generation” in which “more people ages 18 to 29 live with their parents than with a spouse”.  More college students test higher on the narcissism scale than thirty years prior, millennial believe they should be promoted every two years regardless of performance, they are fame obsessed, convinced of their inherent greatness and most believe that when facing moral questions they’ll just “know” what is right.

If we can boil narcissism down to “I am right and everyone else is wrong” then perhaps we might see some way of connecting the other personality dimensions of the narcissist — exploitativness, entitlement, exhibitionism, authority, self-sufficiency, superiority — to public displays of violence, sexual aggression against women (rape culture), students demanding “safe spaces”, etc. Much of this can be summed up as follows, “I deserve it, I want it, it is mine for the taking.” The it in this case can be just about anything — an object, a person or an idea.

In a sense we’ve forgotten our “place”. To be precise, we’ve forgotten that our place is to serve the world (and each other), the world (and others) does not exist to serve us.

Perhaps, somewhere along the way we lost sight of this.

millennial students internet computer addiction sitting bench outside campus summer

Or perhaps we figured that this lesson would become apparent and manifest to our children once they matured so why not just spoil them a little in the meantime? They’ll learn soon enough the harsh realities of the world, why not shield them from such sufferings? After all, they’ve worked hard, they’re only kids once. They deserve it, don’t they?

But does the world deserve them?

Forget about the Zombie Apocalypse, we should worry about the Millennial Apocalypse.

Updated: July 11, 2016 — 2:42 pm


  1. Yes! In all ways, Yes! I was a teacher for 12 years (in college classrooms, high school classrooms, and middle school classrooms), and the “me, me, me” nature of today’s youth is part of the reason I walked away from the profession. I sometimes feel like I gave up to early, but I was starting to feel jaded and discouraged about what our world was coming to. I didn’t like that feeling, so I sought new opportunities.

    I think the “selfie” says it all for this new generation. Never before have so many people been so concerned about capturing their own image everywhere they go — museums, bathrooms, sporting events, solemn memorials… — because now the experience is all about “ME” rather than connecting to the greater whole. It makes me sad. And determined to raise my son to think of the whole more often than he thinks of himself.

    1. I agree Mary Beth. The lives of many are based on curation rather than connection. Some good news, those studying the generation in questions say that most Millennials favor consuming experiences over material goods. This is an offshoot of their propensity to record everything they do, see and eat. The up side? Maybe this will instigate a subtle shift going into the world rather than trying to buy it. Especially if it will look good on Instagram.

  2. The whole concept of thinking that they deserve everything, while simultaneously thinking that they don’t have to do anything to achieve this outcome infuriates me daily. Now that I have a second chance to mold a productive member of society, I often spend time wondering where we went wrong the first time around

    1. Hey Jeremy. Like most things I am certain we had the best of intentions once upon a time. When parenting became about self-esteem that got the ball rolling. When you reward a generation for just showing up, well, that’s going to have an effect as long as the behavior is reinforced and repeated. Sometimes we are the makers of our own monsters.

  3. Oh, honey, I hear you. I adore my nephew but his sense of entitlement isn’t pretty.

    1. The behavior is a down right shame at times, especially in kids we otherwise adore.

  4. I’ve managed to also raise a little narcissistic folk. And yes, truly teens suck and have always sucked. True. Good point that the difference is that now they have the internet to broadcast their shallow self centeredness to the entire planet. Sharing!

    1. Thanks Rosemond. Glad you enjoyed the post.

  5. My daughter teaches High School English and she often comments on the entitled attitude of students and how their parents often enable them in this. The expectation that they should work to achieve seems to have fallen by the wayside somewhere for a lot of them. Being treated as precious babies all their lives has led them to become precocious pre-adults – not pretty!

    1. Not pretty is right. I hope the trend settles itself before that generation finds itself in the seat of power. If not we’ll have (I fear) Trump to the 100th power by then…

  6. Unfortunately, I am (& have been) having to deal with a narcissist, though it’s not a generational thing for him – it is a genetic/learned behaviour from an unstable mother, I believe.

    When I used to work with serious offenders, I dealt with a number of people with narcissistic personality disorder. It is one of the personality disorders more likely to be prevalent in offenders because it is in the anti-social group of disorders. Seems to be particularly prevalent in domestic abusers (particularly the ones who murder). It is sometimes also combined with high levels of psychopathy & that is a dangerous combination. Such people are very rare, but those with psychopathy combined with either narcissistic or antisocial personality disorder tend to make up the most dangerous element of society (serial killers, etc). I found the narcissists most difficult to work with. They rarely change, they don’t see other people’s point of view at all, their view of themselves & the world is delusional and unrealistic, as are their demands & expectations, and they are hugely manipulative. It is very hard to manage their behaviour.

    On the less severe end of the spectrum, there was a very interesting report about social media & the spread of narcissism. It concluded that you can usually accurately identify those with narcissistic PD by the way they behave on social media. But it also suggested that social media is increasing levels of narcissism, particularly when children and young adults are using it because their sense of self is still not fully determined. Basing their sense of self and their self esteem on the often fake online world, and the opinions of people they don’t actually really know, can evidently cause significant damage to the development of their personalities. Interesting, but worrying.

    1. Wonderful comment SM. I feel as if it deserves a stand alone spot all to itself. You’ve offered some very important aspects of the situation to reflect on. I hope others read the comment and agree. Thank you.

  7. hahaha this post really did make me have a giggle , you are soooo right !!! my kids are exactly the same !!!

    1. I think they all are thanks to their phones. Thanks Tracy

  8. You hit the nail on the head. We all, as parents, want the best for our kids. We wanted them to have it better than we did. But these millennials are a bunch of lazy, what is in it for me, I deserve it, it’s too hard morons that I have seen.It is the Millennial Apocalypse.

    1. Hopefully they’re easier to corral than the walking dead. Only time will tell. Thanks Roy.

  9. Yes, there is the sense of entitlement that you see in many millennials. But they also understand giving back. It was hard to motivate millennials at work until we all realized that most are not motivated by the same things previous generations were. It turns out they want time out of work in order to volunteer. And it didn’t matter what they were volunteering at. We had people working in soup kitchens, building houses, stacking food at pantries, and even cutting back hiking trails. They gave whole heartedly and competed with each to win the prize of volunteer work. Of course, maybe that plays into their narsacisstic tendencies because it allowed selfie shots….who knows. But here in CT, volunteer work is now required for graduation. And while yes, there is a sense of entitlement that comes along with where they expect to be in 1 or 2 years, there is also the drive to give back. Which made me realize that this generation is going to be alright.

    1. I’ve noticed some sociological studies that suggest the same thing you are pointing out. Once I picked up on that I began to use a text in several of my classes that focuses on citizenship and community action. The younger students (18-25) ate this stuff up. This surprised me at first until I came to the same realization you did. Sometimes it’s easier to judge than to have an open mind and ask, “Am I seeing the whole picture?” Thanks for the reminder Jennifer.

  10. Trust me, I was judgey at first! My old team was responsible for employee engagement. We were the ones putting on the picnics and parties, but we were also the ones responsible for center wide contests, etc. Ten years ago, we could have run a contest with the top prize being off the phones to play Wii or Xbox and that was a big draw. But in the last few years, those prizes weren’t cutting it anymore. We were falling into the trap of thinking millennials were lazy or didn’t care until we held a focus group with them and asked them what they wanted. Big lesson learned.

    1. Great lesson. Guess we can all listen more but sometimes our problem isn’t the listening part it really becomes whether or not we’ll bother trying to listen in the first place.

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