University Post
University of Copenhagen
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Any room left for Generation Me?

Is this generation spoilt and childish? The University Post asked two social scientists from the '68 Generation

When young people refuse to move from Copenhagen to a small town in the provinces for their education, they are called spoilt and self-obsessed by old men who themselves were called spoilt and self-obsessed.

Like Johannes Andersen, who called the young ‘spoilt and childish’ in the newspaper Information recently. He was asked to explain why 7,500 young applicants who didn’t get into the University of Copenhagen (U of C) this year, didn’t just pack their bags and accept one of the 4,000 available places in other parts of the country.

Johannes Andersen accuses them of putting their own interests above the interests of society. A trend that he also describes in his book ‘The Childish’ (Da. ‘De barnagtige’).

But is the self-obsession of the young a new thing?

From Generation H to Generation Dumb

»The notable thing about young people today, is that their thinking is more and more based on their own needs, and they perceive those who see things differently as opponents that need to be defeated. This is in opposition to what I call ‘the grown-up perspective’, where you are better able to generalise and see both you and me, the context, and the norms and priorities that we are a part of,« Johannes Andersen explains.

The world has never been short of the wise elders who, with omniscience, can pinhole an entire generation of young people with a label. Or even a single letter.

The difference today is that the students of 2009 have accumulated so many labels, that they can pick and choose. Like Generation Y or Generation Dumb (see box on the right).

More short-sighted than politicians

Professor of Psychology and youth-researcher at U of C, Sven Mørch, can see the fun in labelling generations, but warns against over-generalising.

»It’s very normal to speak about how egocentric the youth is today, and it’s a wonderful thing for the rest of us to agree upon. But I’ve actually never met anyone more egocentric than my parents.«

Sven Mørch, like Johannes Andersen, belongs to the famous generation of ’68’. He thinks »spoilt« is the wrong word to use about the youth of today.

»Instead of focussing on their own needs, the young people tend to focus on their own situation. They look at the possibilities they have right now. That means becoming a little more short-sighted than the plans the politicians would have laid for them.« Sven Mørch explains.

He believes you have to look at the complexity of our society to understand young people.

»All of society, not just the educational system, is very complex and hard to suss out. When young people follow their short-term options, it is a way of achieving independence.«

»It’s about what young people are offered, what they can act on and what is expected of them. And there is a difference between, on the one hand, supporting young people in whatever choices they make and, on the other hand, calling them spoilt.«

More and more things

It’s not exactly original calling young people spoilt, and Johannes Andersen of the University of Aalborg does admit that he, too, was called spoilt by older generations.

»But it was a different type of spoilt. I was spoilt because I had the opportunity for an education and a loan. Young people started getting financial resources and time freed up from work in the 60’s. Today it has accelerated and incorporates more and more things«.