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21st Century media landscape breeding generation of narcissists, psychologist says

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
January 10th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Psychologist Keith Ablow says that the current social media landscape, dominated by such high-tech toys as Facebook and Twitter is making young people more selfish and self-absorbed. Ablow cites the new analysis of the American Freshman Survey, that reveals college students are more likely than ever to call themselves gifted and driven to succeed at the same time that their test scores and time spent studying are decreasing.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Ablow also cites Psychologist Jean Twenge, the author of a study who reveals that the tendency toward narcissism in students is up 30 percent in the last thirty-odd years.

"This data is not unexpected. I have been writing a great deal over the past few years about the toxic psychological impact of media and technology on children, adolescents and young adults, particularly as it regards turning them into faux celebrities-the equivalent of lead actors in their own fictionalized life stories," Ablow writes.

Ablow cites the lure of Facebook, where "young people can fool themselves into thinking they have hundreds or thousands of 'friends.'

"They can delete unflattering comments. They can block anyone who disagrees with them or pokes holes in their inflated self-esteem. They can choose to show the world only flattering, sexy or funny photographs of themselves (dozens of albums full, by the way), 'speak' in pithy short posts and publicly connect to movie stars and professional athletes and musicians they 'like.'"

There are inherent dangers lurking behind Twitter as well. "Using Twitter, young people can pretend they are worth 'following,' as though they have real-life fans, when all that is really happening is the mutual fanning of false love and false fame."

Such self-absorption into a non-existent world leads to a false sense of accomplishment. "After their hearts have raced and heads have swelled with false pride for 'being' something they are not.

Youth-oriented media also lulls the young into a cozy trap. "On MTV and other networks, young people can see lives just like theirs portrayed on reality TV shows fueled by such incredible self-involvement and self-love that any of the 'real-life' characters should really be in psychotherapy to have any chance at anything like a normal life."

Ablow's prognosis for this turned-on generation is grim indeed. "These are the psychological drugs of the 21st Century and they are getting our sons and daughters very sick, indeed."

These symptoms are made manifest in "town sports leagues across the country hand out ribbons and trophies to losing teams, schools inflate grades, energy drinks in giant, colorful cans take over the soft drink market, and psychiatrists hand out Adderall like candy."

Before we dismiss this as the doom sayings of an older man who doesn't approve of anything new and youthful - Ablow doesn't let adults off the hook, either. "Congress that can't control its manic, euphoric, narcissistic spending, a president that can't see his way through to applauding genuine and extraordinary achievements in business, a society that blames mass killings on guns, not the psychotic people who wield them, and - here no surprise - a stock market that keeps rising and falling like a roller coaster as bubbles inflate and then, inevitably, burst.

"False pride can never be sustained. The bubble of narcissism is always at risk of bursting," Ablow says. 

"We had better get a plan together to combat this greatest epidemic as it takes shape. Because it will dwarf the toll of any epidemic we have ever known. And it will be the hardest to defeat. Because, by the time we see the scope and destructiveness of this enemy clearly, we will also realize, as the saying goes, that it is us."

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