Millenials: Selfie-Engrossed or Self-Actualized?

By Martha Michael

It’s easy to argue that the “millennial generation,” those born between the early 1980s to about 2000, are selfie-serving narcissists.

Author Jeffrey Kluger points out that millennials -- now in their 20s and 30s -- not only accept narcissistic behaviors, they celebrate them, according to an article in The Atlantic by Brooke Lea Foster. Constant attention on social media and the center stage placement of the Kardashians offer evidence for that belief.

“Facebook, to a narcissist, can be like an open bar to a drunk,” Kluger says. “Plenty of people are narcissistic in our society, but millennials are doing these things on a pandemic level.”

Just Chill, Why Don't Ya?

Foster believes, however, that millenials are no different than every other generation. She reminds us that the ‘70s were coined “The Me Decade,” for instance. Perhaps the overconfident arrogance seen in young adults is merely a right of passage -- and that we were all like that once.

Samantha Raphelson agrees. In an article for NPR, she says every generation has the same reputation.

“Some scholars argue that millennials aren't entitled — they just have more time to be themselves,” Raphelson says.

The definition of adult plays a part, she says, citing the Clark Poll of Emerging Adults. The definition of adulthood used to be getting married or having children, but now it tends to be more esoteric concepts such as responsibility and self-reliance.

San Diego State psychology professor Jean Twenge has studied these types of differences between generations, Raphelson says. Twenge has observed a prevalence of certain traits that has been rising for decades, including extroversion, individuality, self-reliance and leadership.

YOLO (You Only Live Once)

Emerging adulthood, a term coined by author Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, is one explanation for the image that they’re self-engrossed. Arnett chalks it up to their stage of life, when you’re freer from social norms than at other times. One difference between millennials and earlier generations, however, is the length of time they spend in this stage of life. In the ‘60s the median age for women to marry was 20, while today it’s 27, Pew Research Center says.

Another issue that may promote late marriage, according to Twenge, is the lack of stable jobs for this group.

"[It's] the idea of marrying only when you have stable jobs, and stable jobs aren't easy to come by," Twenge says.

Don't Throw Shade

According to Twenge, they aren’t as interested in politics as their predecessors. They don’t believe in old institutions and conventions, so they aren’t likely to support them.

If these tendencies sound like negatives, the positive qualities millennials have include:

  • They’re civic-minded
  • They promote social change
  • They are creative/innovative problem solvers

Maybe there’s more behind that selfie-shooting phone camera than we thought. At least we can look forward to more research from social scientists. That is, as long as they can put up with cracks from a self-confident set of subjects who may say something like, “Why don’t you take a picture? It’ll last longer!”