The self-esteem bubble

When the going gets tough — in college or on the job — young people with inflated self-esteem fall apart, says a USA Today story.

Overall, research shows that self-esteem scores have increased with the generations, says Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University who compared studies on self-esteem of 66,000 college kids across the USA from 1968 through 1994. Such studies are typically based on self-ratings.

She also has noticed that the undergraduates she teaches tend to have an inflated sense of self.

“When you correct writing, they’ll say, ‘It’s just your opinion,’ which is infuriating. Bad grammar and spelling and sentences being wrong is not my opinion, it’s just bad writing,” she says.

So when the criticism flows, some college students are increasingly seeking counseling.

Sam Goldstein, a neuropsychologist at the University of Utah, likened some students to bubbles: On the surface they seem secure and happy, yet with the least adversity they burst.

Employers complain that young workers have an exaggerated sense of entitlement. They’ve heard “good job” too many times from Mom to realize that they’re not always doing a good job.

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  1. ken edwards says:

    The article harmonizes with my own observations. I went to university later in life. I was pursuing my undergrad degree in the early 90’s, I had just turned 30 years old — 10 years or so older than my classmates. During that time I witnessed numerous instances where, to my amazement, professors who were simply trying to keep an orderly, focused classroom found themselves demonized by their students: (“She didn’t have to say it like THAT!”)

    I remember another running to the department chairperson in tears because the professor had made numerous corrections on the student’s written work and had pointed out–tersely, yes–that the student had failed to follow the assignment’s simple written instructions.

    I could supply a dozen or so examples, but I’ll spare you. The article re-ignitied a reoccuring thought I had back in those days. What are these kids going to do when the real world with its real bosses, some of whom are real jerks, going to when it hits ’em upside the head?

  2. For more on this topic I would refer you to

    1) Generation X Goes to College: An Eye-Opening Account of Teaching in Postmodern America by Peter Sacks

    2) Gone for Good: Tales of University Life After the Golden Age by Stuart Rojstaczer

    Jeff H

  3. Steve LaBonne says:

    As a former college professor I can testify that this phenomenon was just as apparent 10 years ago and no doubt goes back much farther than that. I suspect it has something to do with being raised by one of Lileks’s “UberSuperPerfectRoleModelLove-GusherMoms”. 😉 As well as with the little darlings getting As for utterly mediocre work throughout their schooling.

  4. I would say, as a current college student, that the real source of the problem is that our self-esteems have been boosted ridiculously high for no real reason. A friend was telling me yesterday that he didn’t understand the grading scale in college, that in high school he had never turned in a single homework for AP Bio all year, but had still gotten an A, because, after all, he got over 100% on all the tests. So now he’s not turning in homework in college and is shocked when the professors give him failing grades.