The study examined teenagers' attitudes from the 1970s and 2006.

Story Highlights

  • Overconfident teens
  • Higher grades and more
  • But are they competent?
The study examined teenagers' attitudes from the 1970s and 2006.
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In comparison to previous generations, today's teenagers like themselves more and believe they'll be superior adults. Ironically, they also feel less competent and have less self worth.

That's what researchers using 30-plus years of data from the annual Monitoring the Future survey found. Jean Twenge, of San Diego State University, and W. Keith Campbell, with University of Georgia, compared data from 1975 and 2006 for their study published in the November issue of Psychological Science.

Overconfident teens

The study found that recent high school students are very self-confident, predicting that they will perform extremely well in important adult roles. Two-thirds of recent high school students believe they will be "very good" workers, roughly equivalent to the top 20 percent of performance.

Only half of their parents' generation predicted this. Additionally, half of recent high school students believe they will be "very good" spouses and parents, while only one-third predicted this in the 1970s.

"A growing body of research shows that today's young generation is highly individualistic and has very high expectations," said Twenge, author of the book "Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled – and More Miserable Than Ever Before." "It will be interesting to see if their expectations are met as they enter adult life and the workforce."

Higher grades and more

Recent high school students also report higher self-satisfaction, increased self-liking and higher intelligence. They also report earning markedly higher grades. Compared to 1975 students, twice as many 2006 students report earning an "A" average in high school.

However, Twenge said this may be attributed to grade inflation rather than more work on the part of students, as there was a 20 percent drop in students reporting doing 15 or more hours of homework per week.

But are they competent?

While today's teenagers seem to feel good about their futures, they actually do not report increased self-competence.

Slightly fewer recent students agree with "I feel I am a person of worth, on an equal plane with others," while more agree that "I do not have much to be proud of."

Twenge attributes this to the modern idea that self-liking does not necessarily relate to feelings of competence.

"Just as today's high school students are getting better grades for doing less work, students on average are more satisfied with themselves and expect better outcomes even though they don’t feel more competent," Twenge said. " American culture seems to be teaching young people to be overly confident."

About the survey

Monitoring the Future surveys a nationally representative sample of high school seniors and is administered by the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research. The 1970s teens are Baby Boomers, born in the late 1950s, and the 2006 teens were born in the late 1980s and are known as GenMe, Gen Y or Millenials.

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