iGen: Narcissism and Neuroticism: Dr. Jean Twenge (Transcript)

Transcript of JBP Podcast titled “iGen: Narcissism and Neuroticism” with Dr. Jean Twenge. In this episode, Dr Jordan B Peterson and Dr. Jean Twenge discuss the often volatile and unhealthy world of internet anonymity, trolling, trait neuroticism, and the effect of technology on our less independent, more narcissistic young adults- now referred to as the “iGen,” or “Internet Generation.”


DR JORDAN B PETERSON: Hello, everyone. I’m pleased today to be talking with a fellow research psychologist. Dr. Jean M. Twenge is the author of the recent iGen, why today’s super connected kids are growing up less rebellious, more tolerant, less happy and completely unprepared for adulthood. She is professor of psychology at San Diego State University and the author of more than 180 scientific publications and books. Her other published books include Generation Me, why today’s young Americans are more confident, assertive, entitled and more miserable than ever before. The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement, co-authored with W. Keith Campbell. The Impatient Woman’s Guide to Getting Pregnant. Personality Psychology: Understanding Yourself and Others, co-authored with W. Keith Campbell and Social Psychology, co-authored with David G. Myers.

Dr. Twenge frequently gives talks and seminars on teaching and working with today’s young generation based on a data set of 11 million young people. Her audiences have included college faculty and staff, high school teachers, military personnel, camp directors and corporate executives. Her research has been covered by Time, Newsweek, the New York Times, USA Today, U.S. News and World Report and the Washington Post. And she has been featured on Today, Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, Fox and Friends, NBC Nightly News, Dateline NBC and National Public Radio.


Dr. Twenge holds a B.A. and M.A. from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. She lives in San Diego with her husband and three daughters. I’m very much looking forward to talking to Dr. Twenge today, particularly about narcissism and online behavior among young people. You introduce the book, Who is iGen? How do we know? And then talk about chapter one, In No Hurry, Growing Up Slowly. That’s the prolongation of childhood. And so tell us about that and also about what you make of it.

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DR. JEAN TWENGE: Yeah, so childhood really does last longer now. Kids are not as independent. And when they get to be teenagers, they’re just less likely to do all of these things that adults do and children don’t do. And it’s part of a bigger cultural story. It’s part of what evolutionary psychologists call a slow life strategy. So that means at times and places when people live longer, when health care is better and when education takes longer to finish, parents tend to make the choice to have fewer children and nurture them more carefully. So that’s a pretty good description of the way that we raise kids now. So you get that kids don’t walk to school by themselves as much.

And then when they’re teens, they are more reluctant to get their driver’s license or to go out or to date or have a paid job. And then by young adulthood, it takes longer for people to settle into a career and get married and have children. And then even older adults affects them, too, that 50 is the new 40 and people are healthy for longer. So the entire trajectory of life has really slowed down. And for iGen or Generation Z, where that really comes out is that their teen years are very different from their Gen X parents who remember, you know, going out, driving around in cars, getting in trouble, drinking alcohol, all of those things, and their kids don’t do that as much.

DR JORDAN B PETERSON: So do you do you see this as a prolongation of childhood in a positive way because people have longer to live or because the cynic in me, I suppose the Freudian, too, thinks of this as a consequence of overprotective parenting and the inappropriate extension of childhood into adolescence. And I’m wondering, too, to what degree you talk about improvements in health care and transformations in technology, longer lifespan. To what degree is this also a consequence of the fact that people are older when they have children, that they have fewer children and that they’re wealthier, which all of that would make them in some sense more conservative, but also in some strange sense, more careful with their children and maybe even more inappropriately careful.

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And especially the age of parents that’s increased over the years and the fact that there are fewer siblings, which also seems to me to tie into your work on narcissism because I think siblings tend to knock the narcissism out of each other. And so when you don’t have any, well, you definitely are a specialist, especially if your parents have been waiting for you for a long time.

DR. JEAN TWENGE: Yeah, so it’s definitely a function of people waiting longer to have kids. And as you said, they have more resources and they have fewer children. So when you think about this strategy, that’s what happens. It happens when there’s more security and when everything tends to slow down. And when there’s fewer kids, just from an evolutionary perspective and parents are going to protect them more, it’s also you just can’t keep track of them all when there’s a lot of them.

So my mother comes from a family like that. There were eight children in her family and a dairy farm in Minnesota, and they couldn’t possibly have run their dairy farm and kept track of every single one of the kids. So they’ve learned how to be independent very early on, but that was in the 1940s and 50s. And that was the standard at the time. Even families with fewer kids, it was normal for the children to go and play and it was be home at dinner or come home when the streetlights come on if you grew up in a more urban setting. But that was the idea of you kind of let kids do what they wanted to and that’s different now. And it’s not just from the parents.

So I think sometimes you just look at other the parents are overprotected. You miss some of the bigger cultural story that, I mean, this has been codified into law in a lot of places. In the state of Illinois, you’re not allowed to leave a child alone until they’re 14 years old, which to a Gen Xer is ridiculous.

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DR JORDAN B PETERSON: Right. So do you see this, how do you evaluate this as a psychologist? Do you just see this as a part of the normal variation in parenting behavior as a consequence of technological transformation? Or do you see something that’s permanently affecting people’s capability of maturing?

DR. JEAN TWENGE: You know, I think it’s some of both. It is part of technology, certainly, that all of these causes are rooted in technology, better health care, education taking longer for a more complex society and more knowledge that pushes toward that slow life strategy. So it’s an adaptation. It’s an adaptation to a particular place in time.

So there’s trade-offs. Neither a slow life strategy or a fast life strategy is all good or all bad. There are some clear advantages. The kids are not growing up as fast. Most parents are thrilled that not as many teens are having sex or drinking alcohol. But there is the downside. The downside is that we have a generation growing to adulthood who doesn’t have as much experience with independence. And it’s difficult, often, for them to make decisions on their own.

So when I travel around the universities, this is what I hear very consistently. I have more and more students who can’t make even simple decisions without texting their parents. And to take the perspective of this young generation too, which I think is important, it makes sense. This is not necessarily how they asked to be raised. This is the culture that they grew up in. And they arrive at university without those experiences of making those decisions. And it’s really, really hard for them to do that and to make that adjustment. So that’s the big downside. So that’s where I think, as you said, you can be more of a cynic or a critic and say, this is definitely not all good.

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