New Generation Less “Nice”


Found this at the NY Times:

Vindication for crotchety Gen-Xers — already depressed to find themselves the elders in this social relationship — arrived in a paper presented in May at the annual meeting of the Association for Psychological Science in Boston. “Changes in Dispositional Empathy in American College Students Over Time: A Meta-Analysis,” by Sara Konrath, a researcher at the University of Michigan, found that college students today are 40 percent less empathetic than those of 30 years ago, with the numbers plunging primarily after 2000.

As one of those crotchety Gen-Xers myself, I do feel vindicated.

Today’s students scored significantly lower in empathic concern (a 48 percent decrease) and perspective taking (34 percent), considered the more important indices of empathy. In a decisively everyone-for-themselves manner, they are less likely to agree with statements like “I often have tender, concerned feelings for people less fortunate than me” and “I sometimes try to understand my friends better by imagining how things look from their perspective.” This is particularly notable since these are considered shared social ideals: people are more likely to say they agree than they really do.

This is bad news, if it’s true:

The implications are hardly superficial. Low empathy is associated with criminal behavior, violence, sexual offenses, aggression when drunk and other antisocial behaviors. Depressing news. Just don’t expect the next generation to sigh over it, too.

We’ll just have to wait and see if these types of crimes go up, and if we can link them to a general drop in social empathy – no easy task. 

What happened? “We don’t actually know what the causes are at this point,” Dr. Konrath said. But the authors speculate a millennial mixture of video games, social media, reality TV and hyper-competition have left young people self-involved, shallow and unfettered in their individualism and ambition.

I’d blame parents, personally.  These outside factors are not all new.  Hyper-competition was high in the ‘80’s, reality TV has been around in various guises for a while (and bad TV has been on for decades), video games have been around since the ‘70’s, and humans have been prone to idiocy since the dawn of time.

I think, if anything, parents are less involved with their kids.  It’s the same reason kids are fat.  Parents don’t cook healthy meals, they don’t spend enough quality time with their kids, and they don’t know how to say “no” to the kid spending all of his/her time in front of a TV or video game or facebook or their iPhone. 

You can’t blame society at large for your own child’s behavior.  If your kid has empathy problems, that’s your fault.  If you kid is fat, that’s your fault.  It used to be understood by parents that their kids behavior reflected poorly on them.  Now parents think they can blame outside forces – and teachers, principles, and councilors will aid them in that belief. 

If your kid has trouble focusing, it’s ADD.  It’s certainly not that you take them to Starbucks every morning and get them a 700 calorie latte, you never get them to exercise, they are 40 pounds overweight (at 12!!), and they spend all their free time playing Grand Theft Auto.  Nope, it’s the mystical ADD. 

Give me a break.  If this study has any basis in reality, it is a clear indication that the parents of today suck in comparison to the parents a generations ago.  And that is saying something … because our (Generation X’ers) parents were a bit nutty. 


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