I come from the “Me Me Me Generation”, characterized by wiser elders as being selfish and entitled. We get married later (if at all), have less kids, post a plethora of selfies and do crazy things—like go backpacking around Europe for two years while working from a laptop—all in an attempt to satisfy our thirst for purpose or pleasure.
The data is sobering. According to the National Institutes of Health, the incidence of narcissistic personality disorder is nearly three times as high for individuals in their 20s as for those in their mid-sixties or older. 58% of college students scored higher in narcissism in 2009 than in 1982. There’s a bunch of other scary statistics from more young adults living with their parents than ever before to 40% of Millennials feeling they should be promoted in their jobs every two years no matter their level of competency.
Whether I’m at a dinner party or a financial conference, this narcissistic trend is something that inevitably comes up when I talk about passing on values and wisdom to the younger generation. Many shrug and say, “Young people are just too entitled.” Then they go on to the next topic as if we are supposed to write off a whole generation because they grew up getting too many trophies and wearing t-shirts with PRINCESS printed in sparkly letters across the front.
Of course, I also run into people who have children or grandchildren who are loving, considerate and grateful. And I’ve met some amazingly generous Millennials. What I’ve noticed is that the difference between entitled and unentitled kids seems to be mostly about training.
If you ask most people – even of the Me Me Me Generation – if they want to help others, they’ll say, “Yes!” But, often, they don’t know how to go about it or it was never something that was a focus in their homes growing up.
Like any behavior, a focus on self is a habit and one that many employ simply because they don’t know any better or because they believe it will make them happier. It is counter intuitive that giving away your time, resources and money to serve someone else could create more joy in your life, but that’s exactly what ends up happening.
There’s a program called Mainstreet Philanthropy (mainstreetphilanthropy.org), for example, that focuses on involving middle school and high school students in creating a plan to give to a cause they care about. Over several weeks the students learn how to evaluate philanthropic opportunities and get involved in giving to something they are passionate about. Mainstreet Philanthropy has worked with students in low socioeconomic areas as well as wealthy private schools and the results are always the same: the students begin to take ownership over their giving practices and their focus turns away from themselves towards someone else – ultimately resulting in greater love, gratitude and compassion.
Top 7 Principles of “Entitlement De-Programming” for Millennials
There are several principles that make transitioning from a focus on self to a focus on others easier. If you are interested in using philanthropy to prepare your children or the rising generation in becoming more responsible, start with the following guidelines:
1. Don’t Dictate
One of the best traits of Millennials, which can sometimes be frustrating, is that they don’t respond well to authority. So, if you’re a parent or mentor and you have a plan you are trying to dictate, it’s not going to work. Millennials want to be involved as equals. They want to have their opinions taken seriously and be a part of the process. If they can become co-creators of a giving plan, they will take ownership.
2. Act Like a Role Model
If you are a parent or someone who is trying to motivate a child or someone else to be more giving, you had better be a good example. What programs do you give to? What are ways you could improve your own philanthropic efforts? It’s hard to motivate anyone unless you have their respect.
3. Meaning Matters
Not everyone is passionate about saving the whales. Some people have a passion for feeding hungry children, while others are passionate about the environment. Talk through the options and determine what lights them up. If nothing stands out, create a research project and begin researching different issues until you come upon something that gets them excited.
4. Create a Philanthropic Mission
Once a meaningful cause is identified, the next step is to create a personal philanthropic mission statement. This doesn’t have to be long or involved, but it should pinpoint the greater vision.
5. Build a Team
There is an African proverb that states, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Your giving efforts will be much more effective if it is as a team – a family, a group of friends, a school group, or an existing nonprofit. Look for people with common interests for the causes you care about and form or join a team to address those causes.
6. Give Each Person a Specific Role
We’ve all been involved in those service projects where a bunch of people show up and everyone is told to do something stupid – like to vaguely help out. I, for instance, once volunteered to help feed the homeless, but so many people showed up that there were five volunteers for every soup ladle and I spent the whole time staring at others ladling soup. If you want to get someone involved at a deeper level, they need to feel like they are making a difference and not just a redundant “token” who doesn’t matter. Emphasize their role and how important it is to the success of the philanthropic mission.
7. Document the Experience
Encourage them to keep a journal or write about their experiences online. Memories fade quickly and writing it down keeps the passion alive and also serves as an inspiration for others. The more collaborative you can be, the better. Get the team together and have them share their most memorable experiences and what meaning it had for them. Knowing the right questions to ask is a huge help in prompting quality answers. Ask things like, “What was the most meaningful thing that happened during the event?” or “How could we improve our efforts?” or “What did we do right?”
The Give Give Give Generation
With the right tools and resources, “narcissistic” kids can become unbelievably caring. The younger you can start, the better. When kids see adults giving of their time and talents to others and can personally experience the passion of contributing to something beyond themselves, it seeps into their psyche. And, in time, the focus on self begins to give way to a greater form of satisfaction.