The new Gen Y entitlement

17:00, May 05 2012
Generation Y
ME, ME, ME: Gen-Y marches to its own beat.

E.V.T. His initials. Tattooed on his thigh. Elliott Turner, 20, currently on trial in England for the murder of beautiful, 17-year-old Emily Longley. She died in his bed. In the days subsequent he partied on. Was kicked out of a nightclub for pulling down his pants and flashing his genitals. He was just trying to show off his tattoo, he protested, boasted. His infinitesimal initials.

This past week it was revealed he had gloated to a friend that he could do 10 years in jail for killing his Kiwi girlfriend "and still come out a millionaire". In every account he comes off a merciless big-noter, concerned only with larging it up, seemingly unconcerned with his predicament, if anything lapping up the notoriety. Like the star of his own reality show.

Born in 1991, Turner sits smack bang in the middle of Generation Y. A cohort whose sense of entitlement, one friend recently said, has a sense of entitlement all of its own.

More and more I find myself moaning about the generation to follow mine. Not that they will all end up charged with murder – rather their unrealistic levels of expectation. I moan how, as a new graduate desperate for a job, any job, I would have fetched coffee for my boss, hell, I would have wiped her bum, had she asked, while today's graduates seem to think themselves already worthy of the big money and far above the crap jobs.

A British article on the subject quoted a manager for a major telecommunications company. "They [a graduate intake] would be given cars that were a couple of years old and pretty basic, like a Ford Focus. Within three months, a proportion would be demanding something of their own choosing, spec and colour – 'Cos, like, how can I be taken seriously in some old banger?"'

One friend took on an intern, who in response to every task she was given asked either, "What's the point?", or worse, "What's in it for me?" When he addressed her attitude, she was genuinely perplexed, citing her stellar academic record, as though he should just be happy that she had deigned to work for him with her string of A's.


It's a plague, says Jean Twenge, an associate professor of psychology at San Diego State University, who has written a book called The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement. She puts it down to: "Parenting and education, easy credit, celebrity culture and the internet. The latter provides for instant fame and the shallow social connections that narcissists love, the kind you find on social networks."

Gen Yers have inherited an unstable world. (Apparently 100 entry-level positions have been offered in the Australian print media over the past two years. Journalism schools have accepted 4750 enrolments.) You would have a hard heart not to worry for their futures. And, of course, an over-blown sense of self-entitlement is hardly unique to those born in the 80s and 90s – we all know a name-dropping blowhard, pregnant with pomposity.

I worry even more for my children's generation – Generation Z, the so-called "Digital Natives" – who have been exposed since birth to the instant gratification afforded by new technologies. When I was growing up we had Pizza Hut or KFC once a year on our birthdays. It was a treat. While I endeavour to feed my children home-cooked goodness most of the time, I know fast food is no treat for them. It's a regular occurrence. A trip to the zoo is not the true thrill for my son. For him the apex of the outing is the zoo shop. I haven't had a new toy in ages, he'll entreat, as though a new toy should be a routine thing, not something you get on birthdays and at Christmas. I would impugn my parenting, except that I witness the same expectations in other children. "Where's the goodie bag?" asked one child as he left the party.

Twenge believes that our pursuit of high self-esteem at all cost is partly to blame. Constant praise and attention, she says, fuel narcissism. I guess if you pander enough to anyone, you're bound to unleash their inner enfant terrible.

Start saying no now, advised a wise friend, the mother of two teenagers. No, you can't have popcorn and an icecream. No, you can't stay up another 10 minutes. No, you can't have a sleepover. No. No. No. It'll set them up well for later in life, she said.

Am I merely falling prey to some biological urge beyond my control, when I judge those younger than me for behaviour different to my own? I always swore I'd never be one of those Elvis the Pelvis-killjoys, who thought he'd corrupt a generation.

Last weekend I joined the hikoi protesting John Key's plans to sell off state-owned assets. After a dormant decade or two I have marched in a few protests recently, partly out of a desire to instil in my children, as my parents did in me, the importance of standing up to be counted, the privilege of being born to a democracy.

Most of the marches I've partaken in lately have been an exercise in gritting my teeth and willing it to be over. Dire affairs, peopled primarily by career protesters, most of whom are now entitled to draw a pension. But Saturday's was different. There was music, there was a sense of purpose and of fun. As, my father noted, the best demonstrations always feel more like a massive party.

And while I was too uptight to echo the pretty 20-something on the loud mic's call of "Power to the people", her Gen Y peers were all yelling with the freedom of those who have been taught to expect more.

Sunday Star Times