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iGeneration and the new hypersensitivity

The Coddling of the American Mind / iGen – Why Today's Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy – and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood – and What That Means for the Rest of Us
Students live in a bubble and should go to therapy to cope with the real world, two authors think of the state of American universities.


Freedom of speech advocate Greg Lukianoff (b. 1974) and social psychologist Jonathan Haidt (b. 1963) caught the attention of the article "The Coddling of the American Mind" – "The Dulling with the American Spirit" – in The Atlantic magazine in 2015. The authors have now expanded the article into a book. The title reflects on philosopher Allan Bloom's (1930 – 1992) conservative and dystopian criticism of the education system in The Closing of the American Mind from 1987. (A taste bit was translated into Norwegian in 1992: The sad history of the university.)

The power of offense

Like Bloom, Lukianoff and Haidt write about the state of American universities. The focus this time is not on criticism of the popular culture and defense of the classics, but phenomena that have escalated especially since 2013: trigger warnings, mikroaggresjon and safe spaces.

We see it daily in social media: even some hair-wrenching deeds that feel "offended" by something! The world does not stand for Easter: Students at US universities have lost their lace! It is moaning loudly – and in the echo chamber, people are reaffirming that democracy, freedom of speech and the ideals of the Enlightenment are under threat.

During the 400 times, invited speakers have had to resign due to student protests.

The students seek security, protest against guest speakers who promote opinions they do not like, and overreact if anything is unpleasant. You do not ask for the sender's intentions: Just something experienced as discriminatory, the action is underway. Campus becomes a minefield where it is easy to make mistakes.

mentality Change

Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt
Jonathan Haidt

What has caused the new attitude among students? Haidt and Lukianoff state that the development is not due to individual extremists, but a radical change in mentality. They refer to 379 cases of invited lecturers being forced to resign because of student protests. This has escalated especially after 2013.

Six factors are emphasized to explain the phenomenon. 1) Increasing and hateful polarization between Republicans and Democrats is creating a heated climate. Confrontations and a watch-on attitude are in the air. When combined with 2) increasing anxiety and depression in students, 3) overprotective parents, 4) less free play in growing up, 5) a bureaucracy that feeds on security ideology and 6) a justice thinking that focuses too much on results equality, the result is witch-hunting and hysterical reactions.

The authors recommend cognitive therapy to reinforce realityorienteringone to the students, who have been expecting to live in a bubble. They must learn that negative emotions do not necessarily reflect the situation as it is. Democracy collapses if you want to ban everything you do not like.

Generation iGen

Jean M. Twenge, Professor of Psychology
Jean M. Twenge

Haidt and Lukianoff now realize that it is not the universities that have created the new mentality. Mental illness is spreading among the youth – a wave "unlike anything seen in modern times". Here, the authors rely extensively on Jean M. Twenge's book iGen – Why Today's Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy – and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood – and What That Means for the Rest of Us (2017), which this year has come in a pocket edition. Twenge is a professor of psychology at San Diego State University and, according to the authors, "provides the most detailed picture to date of the behavior, values, and mental state of today's teens and students." She has been doing generational research for 25 years, and previously wrote about it millennials i Generation Me (2006). The generation that was born 1995–2012, she has called iGen, because the smartphone is central to young people's lives.

Not only are individuals hypersensitive and traumatized: The majority views the university as a place where they should feel safe and not risk experiencing emotional discomfort. They do not smoke, drink less and later make their sexual debut. They don't like to take risks, everything should be safe and sound.

The freedom that disappeared

The contrast of Twenge's (b. 1971) own generation is striking at some points, for example when it comes to obtaining a certificate. Where Generation X pressed to feel the freedom of driving as fast as possible, the iGeners postpone this until parents no longer have the ability to drive them to school anymore.

Jean M Twenge: IG bookIf you go back to the 70s, the contrast is even greater: Then the young people tried to find places for themselves where they could smoke, drink and squeal in the back seat of their cars. iGeneers prefer to be with their parents and simply spend more time growing up as adults. adulting has become a new word with negative value.

Twenge will refrain from moralizing by claiming that the Genes "behave better" or are "boring". Still, she falls out of the role of distant researcher when she also moans about what youth use the web for: "We have the most complete and direct access to information in all of humanity's history, but use it to watch funny cat videos."

Vulnerability provides security

iGenes avoid close relationships based on the maxim: "Without relationships, no problems." Many believe that identity is built independently of relationships, and not in them. Only when you are "fully developed" as an adult can you enter into a relationship, is psychologist Leslie Bell's description of the situation.

"It's hard to learn something about yourself when you're with someone else," says one of Twenge's interview subjects. Having an identity that is so vulnerable increases the need for security. Here is the psychological background for the type of identity politics we see in extreme US universities.

Less social contact gives students poorer training in social skills, negotiating relationships and navigating feelings. Young people demonstrate an optimism and confidence online that will cover real-life vulnerability.

Hyper-sensitivity causes students to try to have sex without emotion. If they start to get emotionally engaged in theirs fuck buddies, or "pool friends," they get into trouble. In 54, 2014 percent of students reported having had anxiety attacks, and many were suffering from loneliness. The more students are on social media, the lonelier they become, Twenge argues.

The youth lives in a smartphone bubble. "I think we like our phones better than real people," said one of Twenge's informants. Only 10 percent read a paper newspaper at least once a week. iGenese comprises 74 million people or 24 percent of the United States population. This is the future!

Criticism of Twenge

Katie Davies, author of The App Generation
Katie Davis, one of the authors of The App Generation. Photo: Tamell Simons

The authors of The App Generation (2013), Katie Davies and Howard Gardener, criticize Twenge for pushing the material and confusing correlation and causality. When Twenge claims that the more time the young people spend in front of the screen, the more depressed they become, she underestimates social context and concentrates too much on one single factor: the smartphone. That the number of suicides and the prevalence of depression is increasing is a fact – but what is the cause? Media researcher Alexandra Samuel has made an original criticism as opposed to Twenge looking at them adults Internet use.

Twenge has also been criticized for not lagging behind the official unemployment figures when she states that the financial crisis has not contributed to the new mentality. She could obviously have studied this more thoroughly – but when the unemployment rate among 15-24 year olds dropped from 18,3 per cent in 2010 to 9,5 per cent in 2017, it provides a poor basis for explaining young people's mental health problems with a lack of work.

The debate about American students' new hypersensitivity is by no means over, and shows how difficult it can be to find the reasons for the need for excessive identity politics.

If then you do not want to just moan stated.

See also case Mom and Dad are to blame

Read more about hypersensitivity: It blows a storm of hurt feelings through the world


Eivind Tjønneland
Eivind Tjønneland
Historian of ideas and author. Regular critic in MODERN TIMES. (Former professor of literature at the University of Bergen.)

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