They have been labelled diehard narcissists, the “Me Generation”, forever seeking social acceptance and a life of fun, fame and parties.
But are members of the “Me Generation” any more self-centered than their parents were? Or does their heightened exposure to technology merely make them seem to gaze in the mirror more often?
According to Dr Jean Twenge, co-author of The Narcissism Epidemic, “today’s culture encourages teens to feel good about themselves no matter what”.
And in some cases, she said, this led to narcissism, a personality trait characterized by an inflated sense of self.
Twenge said a 2015 study found that when parents emphasized how special their children were, the children were more likely to develop narcissistic traits.
She said it’s not clear whether social media caused narcissism. We do know, however, that narcissistic people make more connections on social media sites and can dominate these venues.
Last week a Durban teenager posted Instagram photographs of himself in his school uniform with the Mercedes-AMG C63 that his parents had just bought him for his 18th birthday. The pics went viral and he gained more that 2,000 followers.
But Donny UPPA, as he calls himself on Instagram, had shown no obvious signs of being a show-off rich kid in his previous posts.
“What I post on Instagram depends on how excited I am or how I feel on that particular day,” he said.
He used to get an allowance but asked his parents to stop giving him the money and save it so that he could start his own business.
He said he’s inspired by giants such as Patrice Motsepe, Vivian Reddy, Mark Zuckerberg and his father, who he declined to name. “They have taken a unique approach in becoming successful,” he said.
Johannesburg-based child counselor Karen Moross said growing up in the digital age added to the complexity of managing relationships and developing an identity.Trying different identities online can be precarious for adolescents and every bad decision is being on display for the ‘whole world’
“Trying different identities online can be precarious for adolescents and every bad decision is being on display for the ‘whole world’. It is important for adults to have conversations with teens about their identity management online.”
She said social media was a “battleground of reputation, status and popularity, where attention is a commodity and this is embedded in everyday teenage life”.
Unlike Donny’s, 21-year-old Lauren Campbell’s Instagram account is littered with pictures of luxury brands. Items such as Chanel gift boxes, Christian Louboutin shoes, Michael Kors bags and fast cars mean it’s no secret that she’s rich. She said the most expensive thing she had bought is a pair of Louboutins for R15,000.
Her blog, Fashionista CT, has opened doors for her to be a brand ambassador. “Instagram is not as easy as people think,” she said. “There are so many things you need to think about. Is the lighting good, will I be inspired by this picture, does it draw attention?”
Campbell said making her lifestyle public was part of being a lifestyle blogger. “It’s more of having your lifestyle public and your private life private.
“I work with brands and incorporate them into my lifestyle. If my lifestyle isn’t public I won’t be able to work with brands or make money. I mostly do blogging to inspire women,” she said.
Based in Cape Town and Dallas, Campbell makes some of her income by working as a part of the communication team at her family’s NGO and does some social media freelance work for brands.
Social media is not the only platform that influences narcissistic behavior. Research has also shown that reality TV shows have an influence on how young people behave.
Shows such as Rich Kids of Beverly Hills, Keeping Up With The Kardashians and the Housewives series have turned people with no acting skills into TV stars.
Rich Kids of Beverly Hills features the lives of privileged young adults. On the show they take extravagant trips, wear designer clothes and pop champagne. They are rarely seen looking for jobs.
In one episode of Rich Kids , Morgan Stewart and her fiancé Brandon Fitzpatrick argue about a venue for their wedding. During the row she says: “I don’t care about anybody else, I care about myself.”
Twenge said studies had shown that today’s young generation is more narcissistic than previous generations.
“Some of these studies show they are more narcissistic than previous generations were at the same age. Even beyond that, studies have shown that today’s teens are more likely to believe they are above average and more likely to expect that they will perform better in the future,” she said.
“These shifts were in place before social media, but social media may have contributed to their continuing rise.”