Narcissistic college students

As a parent of young children I often think about how I guide my children through the world. My actions and guidance are laying the foundation for the adults they will grow to be. Last year I found this article Are Today's Students Too Self-Centered? particularly interesting at the time since I was working with college students. This article's study found a trend in rising narcissism among college students. The psychologists responsible for the study became concerned that this increased narcissism could affect these students' personal relationships and well as trickle down to affect society. Being employed by a significant Washington, D.C. University seeing first hand these behaviors exhibited by my employees solidifies the claims of this article in my mind. When I think back to my first year as manager I am reminded of how dumbfounded I felt when interacting with my employees. All of the employees were inherited (hired by my predecessor) and made for some eye opening experiences. I was constantly impressed with the extent most (there are exceptions) of my employees would go to gain my attention. My full attention. I had to be filled in on some of their activities and was left to be the person handing out advice and support. Often I felt as if my employees were seeking their own personal cheerleader. Being a cheerleader was the least of my troubles. It was when their actions affected their work that I became concerned.

I have learned excellent lessons in management of undergraduate student employees.

1.) These students are unaware of being self absorbed. This is an example of an exchange between me and one of my student employees:
me: "I noticed that during your shift yesterday you left early, yet on the time sheet you indicated that you were here until 2pm."
student: "How do you know I left?"
me: "The Reference librarian came to tell me when you were seen leaving the desk with your coat and books. The librarian was wondering if I forgot to fill in for you. When I explained that was not the case and that you are scheduled to be there until 2pm it became apparent you abandoned the service desk."
student: "I figured that since my class is on the other side of campus I would leave a little earlier so I can get there on time. I had a test."
me: "I understand the getting to class on time need, I remember being in college, I worked too. However, leaving the service desk without telling anyone, particularly when you are the only person at the desk is poor judgment and is something that most people are fired for doing."
student: "Oh? Well. I had to get to class and no one showed up to relieve me."
me: "That's because you left 15 minutes before your scheduled shifts ends. Most students, you included, typically arrive no more than 5 minutes before their shift begins."
student: "But I had to get to class on time."

This student's self absorption was clearly evident in the responses no matter what reasoning I used. The above example happened twice that semester with two different students. I was taken aback by the obvious lack of respect for work. These were students that by their words needed the job yet there was no care about actually working. Those students were fired, for fudging the time sheets and misconduct, a consequence of living in the grown-up world.

18 is not the same 18 as it was for me and the previous generations. 18 in this generation is more like what 14 was to the previous generation. You can not assume that just because these kids are in college that they will behave with any sort of maturity. And are they expected to? For most of their lives their parents have done everything for them and have not expected their children to take on personal responsibilities. I discovered that if I wanted anything done I had to be on their tails. Also if I didn't give loads of praise that affected their effort. Not that giving praise is a terrible thing but I should not have to compliment an employee on their amazing shelving skills every day. Praise is something to earn not to be handed out for simple daily job expectations.

The "jobs you have in college are not real jobs". This is a common thought. None of the students I employed had a career goal of becoming a librarian. Since they were going on to bigger and better things it was their belief that actually working was not as important as doing homework or socializing while on duty. For a generation so focused on leaving their mark this was where they forgot to begin. My goal became giving my employees a sense of work ethic and desire to be successful in every endeavor. Something their parents should have done BEFORE the student came to college.

4.) These students are perfect and can do no wrong. On occasion if my employees were corrected the parents would have to give me a "talking to" as if I were the child. Because for some reason I shouldn't be harsh or have any expectations that their child should work to earn their wages. I had some very uncomfortable conversations with parents. These moments of me gently pointing out how juvenile their child behaved, as a legal adult with a job mind you, and how the parent calling me to set me straight seems ridiculous. The conversations were ended by me asking the parent what would happen at their own jobs if they were to do the same thing. Once the perspective was highlighted the parents usually yielded in my favor. To this day I am baffled about why a parent felt obligated to call me, threaten me and tell me how to manage my department. Particularly when this parent's child was fired for time-sheet fraud.

As I was able to choose my staff crew I became aware of the little clues to cue me to avoid certain applicants. By and by eventually the majority of the staff I hired came from the exceptions group. Managing college students is no easy task. To be successful you must understand their motives and be dedicated to giving them constant guidance.

Are Today's Students Too Self-Centered?
By Lloyd de Vries
David Crary © MMVII The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. Feb. 27, 2007 This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
Article link:

In case the link to the article is not working the article text is below:

Today's college students are more narcissistic and self-centered than their predecessors, according to a comprehensive new study by five psychologists who worry that the trend could be harmful to personal relationships and American society.

"We need to stop endlessly repeating 'You're special' and having children repeat that back," said the study's lead author, Professor Jean Twenge of San Diego State University. "Kids are self-centered enough already."

Twenge and her colleagues, in findings to be presented at a workshop Tuesday in San Diego on the generation gap, examined the responses of 16,475 college students nationwide who completed an evaluation called the Narcissistic Personality Inventory between 1982 and 2006.

The standardized inventory, known as the NPI, asks for responses to such statements as "If I ruled the world, it would be a better place," "I think I am a special person" and "I can live my life any way I want to."

The researchers describe their study as the largest ever of its type and say students' NPI scores have risen steadily since the current test was introduced in 1982. By 2006, they said, two-thirds of the students had above-average scores, 30 percent more than in 1982.

Narcissism can have benefits, said study co-author W. Keith Campbell of the University of Georgia, suggesting it could be useful in meeting new people "or auditioning on 'American Idol.' "

"Unfortunately, narcissism can also have very negative consequences for society, including the breakdown of close relationships with others," he said.

The study asserts that narcissists "are more likely to have romantic relationships that are short-lived, at risk for infidelity, lack emotional warmth, and to exhibit game-playing, dishonesty, and over-controlling and violent behaviors."

Twenge, the author of "Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled — and More Miserable Than Ever Before," said narcissists tend to lack empathy, react aggressively to criticism and favor self-promotion over helping others.

The researchers traced the phenomenon back to what they called the "self-esteem movement" that emerged in the 1980s, asserting that the effort to build self-confidence had gone too far.

As an example, Twenge cited a song commonly sung to the tune of "Frere Jacques" in preschool: "I am special, I am special. Look at me."

"Current technology fuels the increase in narcissism," Twenge said. "By its very name, MySpace encourages attention-seeking, as does YouTube."

Some analysts have commended today's young people for increased commitment to volunteer work. But Twenge viewed even this phenomenon skeptically, noting that many high schools require community service and many youths feel pressure to list such endeavors on college applications.

Campbell said the narcissism upsurge seemed so pronounced that he was unsure if there were obvious remedies.

"Permissiveness seems to be a component," he said. "A potential antidote would be more authoritative parenting. Less indulgence might be called for."

The new report follows a study released by UCLA last month which found that nearly three-quarters of the freshmen it surveyed thought it was important to be "very well-off financially." That compared with 62.5 percent who said the same in 1980 and 42 percent in 1966.

Yet students, while acknowledging some legitimacy to such findings, don't necessarily accept negative generalizations about their generation.

Hanady Kader, a University of Washington senior, said she worked unpaid last summer helping resettle refugees and considers many of her peers to be civic-minded. But she is dismayed by the competitiveness of some students who seem prematurely focused on career status.

"We're encouraged a lot to be individuals and go out there and do what you want, and nobody should stand in your way," Kader said. "I can see goals and ambitions getting in the way of other things like relationships."

Kari Dalane, a University of Vermont sophomore, says most of her contemporaries are politically active and not overly self-centered.

"People are worried about themselves — but in the sense of where are they're going to find a place in the world," she said. "People want to look their best, have a good time, but it doesn't mean they're not concerned about the rest of the world."

Besides, some of the responses on the narcissism test might not be worrisome, Dalane said. "It would be more depressing if people answered, 'No, I'm not special.'"

Below are a few comments submitted in response to the article (from CBS site) that I thought were very significant:

-The parents of today's high school and undergraduate college students are by and large not "hippies", but rather those born between 1958 and 1970. The "hippies" were more likely those who were born between 1945 and 1953. But I agree with the authors' criticism of the effects of over-emphasis on self-esteem as it relates to preschool/elementary aged children.

-People can become narcissistic from two very different ways: growing-up "spoiled and special" or growing-up "neglected and abused". Either way, they never learn empathy.
Because they're so self-centered, they're incapable of maintaining healthy close relationships.

-Of course kids (& not just college kids) today are self-centered. A typical introduction when meeting a mom & her little pieces of work for the first time at the playground:
"Hi there! I'm Cronic Fatigue Syndrome with Fibromyalgia Tendancies and this is my son ADHD, & my daughter Several Food Allergies bordering on a Full Blown Eating Disorder. We'd love to join in the fun & games on the playground, but poor little ADHD here suffers from Out of Breath When Engaging in any Activity that Reaquires Movement. He's been put on a strict no chores or homework diet. Precious Food Allergies breaks out in Acute Tantrum When Asked to Share. My husband, Arthritic Back & Knee Condition, will be joining us after he returns from teeing off. It seems to be the only thing that helps alieve his Bigger TV Than the Neighbours Have which has been plaguing him for quite some time. Oh, sorry, can't talk now. Gotta run, it's an emergency. Little ADHD needs a new video game right now or else he'll never get to sleep tonight. Ta ta!"


Judith said…
Loved your comments at the end! When did we start identifying, no wait, DEFINING ourselves (and each other) by our disorders? Whatever happened to quirks? A few years ago we'd visit a neighbor with a really clean house and tell her she had a lovely home. Today we'd see her place and think immaculate, impossible, must be OCD!
Yvonne said…
Precisely! Labels have become excuses.
Sydney said…
I was going to say something vaguely in defense of state schools over private (because the lower average family income at a state school means kids know the value of a dollar), but then I thought back to my undergraduate years and how much I loathed my fellow students and their completely infantile view of the world and total lack of respect for or understanding of responsibility in its various forms and I've now reconsidered. My theory has always been that it's because these kids have been sheltered too long and college is their first chance for [braveheart]frrreeeedom![/braveheart] so they freak the hell out. I did that Freshman year in high school; by the time I got to college, being irresponsible and drinking yourself sick just seemed old hat. And I wish I could say that a non-traditional school like PSU (that's Portland State for all you non-Oregonians who only have eyes for Penn) is better off, but I have it on good authority that it doesn't matter how many adults with kids and careers and lives you add to the mix, college kids are still morons. One of my current bosses sometimes teaches at PSU (or used to anyway) and she said that her students do not understand the difference between conversational and formal voice in paper writing. In a higher-level social science class, they write like they're telling a friend about this thing or whatever, you know, wait, huh?. 18-year olds are just ill-prepared for the world of today; lord knows how they'll make it in the world of tomorrow.

Having worked for you, I would like to confirm that you are a fair and excellent boss AND had a pretty good eye for student workers. At least when I was there, everyone I worked with was pretty wonderful. And we all got along. That may have been your one hiring weakness: too many awesome people in one place. They're bound to enjoy each other's company, have too much fun, not get any shelving done, spend twenty minutes trying to guess what the students in the study room are arguing about when it can't possibly matter... Damn, that was a great job! Okay, I gotta go drop some lines on The Facebook to some of my library compatriots. :D

[Haha! It tried to use my faux html "braveheart" tag as a real tag so I had to change the less thans to brackets. Hilarious!]

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