Me Almighty: An Epidemic Sweeping America's Youth

By Walt Mueller | September 5 2007

A law enforcement friend with 21 years of experience got rattled last week.

He was on a call to confiscate a straight-razor, cocaine, and a note threat­ening extreme violence from a 12-year­old girl at a local school. That was bad enough, he said. But the most disturbing part was the girl’s nonchalance. “It struck me that I was more emotionally involved in her arrest than she was,” he said.

As I listened to my friend, one word came to mind: narcissism.

The Culture of Narcissism

Narcissism is a cultural reality we youth workers must seriously consider if we hope to be effective in youth ministry.

Narcissus, you remember, was the mythological Greek youth who couldn’t take his eyes off his own reflection. Self-absorbed, his world revolved around nobody and nothing but himself.

I didn’t remember learning about Narcissus until I was a college senior. The Culture of Narcissism (1979) by Christopher Lasch was assigned reading in a sociology class. Lasch believed that as a result of the political turmoil of the 1960s, Americans had retreated into themselves and were focusing solely on personal preoccupations. This type of liv­ing in the moment cut all ties to the tra­ditions, rules, conventions and cultures of the past. “I” became the center of the universe and source of reality and morals.

Lasch’s “culture” of narcissism has snowballed today to the point where it’s even more deeply entrenched in our students’ lives. Their generation has inherited the legacy of their self-absorbed ancestors to become second- and third-generation narcissists.

If you don’t believe it, just spend some time with pop culture, listening and watching as music and music videos pro­mote me, myself, and I entitlement. Watch the auditions of tens of thousands of youthful “American Idol” wannabes who believe the lies that “I’m a star” and “I can sing,” even though Simon Cowell tells them otherwise. Consider how readily kids expose their thoughts, photos and lives for all to see on social networking sites such as MySpace (note the My). Narcissistic devotion to self is nothing less than idolatry.

It’s All About Me

If we want to see our students communi­cate the selfless Kingdom of God as it confronts their narcissistic culture, then we must first recognize and confront their own narcissism.

This task will be difficult, because if we are honest, we will find ourselves facing our own narcissism. What are its characteristics?

Narcissism’s love affair with wealth and materialism. Hammered by a mar­keting machine that exploits their youth­ful anxieties and aspirations, today’s teenagers are being socialized into narcis­sism; and they are eagerly embracing materialism as a lifestyle.

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