The Participant Trophy Generation


In the United States, every college student is above average.

A new analysis of the American Freshman Survey, which has accumulated data for the past 47 years from 9 million young adults, reveals that college students are more likely than ever to call themselves gifted and driven to succeed, even though their test scores and time spent studying are decreasing.

Psychologist Jean Twenge, the lead author of the analysis, is also the author of a study showing 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.

In my experience, American youth have a real self esteem problem: they have too damned much of it. In my experience, young people who have nothing to prove, don’t attempt to prove anything.

I don’t know from whence came this notion that young people who believe that they are each God’s greatest creation will be better workers, better spouses and better parents. Most of the time they are self-important little pricks who think the world owes them a living for gracing it with their presence.

I can still remember 50 cocky little bastards who showed up at Fort Benning in the summer of 1982. By fall, we were down to about 35 young men who were first revealed to be weak and pathetic; then, only after being beaten down, were they built up into warriors.

Nothing improves performance like a sense of profound necessity. America’s princes and princesses know nothing of necessity and expect nothing but praise. They are in for a rude awakening.

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2 Responses to The Participant Trophy Generation

  1. Ray Davies says:

    How well I can remember RD. I looks a lot like the trophy I got in the SE Asia War Games Hey,we won second place.

  2. Uke says:

    Absolutely true, RD. A society that is doing everything it can to stroke the egos of its youth is, if not actively doing harm, at least a wasted effort.

    Historically, the youth of our culture (every culture, perhaps) is hardwired to be optimistic about both their abilities, and the future of their surrounding culture. It’s no accident that even in the wild, in other species, adolescent males often overestimate their abilities until some wizened patriarch comes along to slap them down.

    Only a society that infantilizes its populace and feminizes its males probably produces a youth culture that needs perpetual pats on the back and constant whispers of praise, I suppose.


    P.S. The syntax of your second to last paragraph was bugging the shit out of me, RD, so I tweaked it a bit. Sorry. 😛