"I grew up with a lot of these phrases and took them for granted and I think maybe I didn't notice them until I started working on this book. I was surprised at how many television shows, movies, and magazine articles used phrases about the 'self,' and talked about self-esteem and loving yourself before you love someone else, and believing in yourself."
"Do you think this movement started with the school system, or did it bubble up in society in general?"
"It started with society in general and then it moved to the school systems."
"In your book you also focus on the high expectations that 'Generation Me' faced all the while they were growing up. Not only are you unique and wonderful and special but you'll rule the world, essentially. How is that experience different from the 'Boomer' generation that grew up believing that, or being told that, anyone could grow up to be president?"
"Well, the boomer generation didn't grow up with that. They grew up in the '50s, and they didn't hear that anybody could be president. The idea of 'you can be anything you want to be,' and so on, that did not become prevalent until the '70s."
"Parents want to have high expectations for their children, and want them to have high aspirations for themselves, and yet, there's reality to contend with. What do you counsel parents as to the line between those two?"
"You should encourage kids to aim high and to have goals for themselves, absolutely, but a phrase like 'you can be anything you want to be' is wrong."
"You write about the anxiety and the intense emotional distress that this generation is experiencing as young adults. Could you explain what you see as the big stressors?"
"The first is loneliness. A lot of this generation started to date very early, like at 12 or 13, but then we marry much later than the Baby Boomers. The average Baby Boomer woman got married before she was 21 years old. The average was 20.8 for women in 1970. Today, we marry when we are 25 to 27 on average. We've got about 15 years where we're dating and breaking up, and that's a formula for anxiety and depression.
"A second major stress factor is the fact that you have this generation raised with very high expectations. Eighty percent of college sophomores say that they're going to graduate from a four-year college; in reality, probably only about 25 percent of them will do so. Seventy-five percent of college freshmen say that they're going to get a graduate degree.
"Then there is the segment [of Generation Me] who expects to be rich and famous and become a basketball player or a movie star."
"What has to give in order for people to take better emotional care of themselves?"
"I think we have to start with the messages we're giving kids. I actually think it helps teenagers to know that it might be hard to get into college and that you have to work hard to be able to afford a house."
"You mentioned that Generation Me begins dating at a very early age. What other differences in attitudes toward relationships and sexual behavior did you find?"
"One of my graduate students, Brooke Wells, did her master's thesis on that. I owe her for that chapter in my book. She found that the average age for losing your virginity has dropped to 15, that the vast majority of teenagers and young adults say that premarital sex is acceptable, and that the majority have engaged in and find oral sex acceptable."
"What accounts for the change?"
"Like a lot of things we've been talking about, it's that move toward the individual and away from social rules. Across all of these different realms what you get is 'express yourself,' and 'do what's right for you.'
"In a previous era it would have been, 'you're not supposed to do it until you're married, and you're supposed to follow these rules and so on.' But now, 'if it feels good, do it' is the rule. Because it's about what feels right for you, and sex feels good.
"There is also an interesting move toward hooking up. Being a little more promiscuous rather than relationship based."
"And that attitude is shared by males and females?"
"One of the biggest trends Brooke found was that the changes were a lot larger for girls and women than they were for boys and men, because they had farther to go. Now there are just not that many differences in [sexual attitudes] between males and females."
"What are the emotional consequences of this kind of sexual behavior over time?"
"I don't think we really know, exactly, whether the anxiety and depression can be traced to that. I personally doubt it, because there's another element in this. In the last ten years, teenage pregnancy has actually gone down. So, although it seems like there's more sex among teenagers, they seem to be engaging in it more responsibly.
"If you look across time and across cultures, early sexual activity has been the norm. So, I'm reluctant to say that there's any connection between the two."
"In what ways are you like the generation you describe?
"I did grow up with a lot of these individualistic crazes and I think they did influence my thinking and they did encourage me... there's always good things and bad things.
"I am grateful every day I was born in the '70s instead of the '40s because I would probably not be a college professor and writing a book if I were a woman born 30 years earlier than I was. I am not one of those people who want to go back. But the disadvantage is, I think, I had to learn as an adult to value relationships and to think about other people's feelings. I think my parents tried to get that [idea] across but I think the messages that I was getting from TV and every other source trumped that.