A sociologist argues younger generation need self-help messages

After researching self-help books, a sociologist argues that Millennials need the messages of classic self-help books in order to navigate modern relationships:

When assistant professor of sociology Christine Whelan, 33, set out to study the rise of the self-help industry ten years ago, she was skeptical. But after reading hundreds of books, writing her doctoral dissertation on the subject at Oxford, and then teaching more than 400 students, Whelan, now at the University of Pittsburgh, realized that several self-help classics had a lot to teach a generation of people who are expert at texting and other sorts of online communication, but ill-schooled in the art of face-to-face communication and self-presentation…

Whelan got the idea to start teaching self-help classes, which she framed as the sociology of self-improvement. She was surprised to discover how eager her students were to absorb the lessons taught in books like Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends and Influence People, first released in 1937, M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled from 1978 and Stephen Covey’s 1989 The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. “They were raised in a therapeutic culture,” she notes. “That separates this generation of job-seekers from others.”…

After putting hundreds of students through her course, Whelan says she came up with some lessons that combine 20th century common sense with 21st century lives. She combined them into a new self-help book aimed at Millennials, Generation WTF. I asked her to boil down the points most salient to job seekers, and illustrate them with some anecdotes. Notes Whelan, “nothing in this is rocket science. But it’s new to them and it works.”

The six steps that are then laid out seem fairly obvious but perhaps Whelan is right about the need to teach this material. There does seem to be a lot of articles floating around these days that talk about the crazy things that people interviewing for jobs do.

So what exactly goes on in a “sociology of self-improvement” class? While it sounds odd when you first hear about it, it could end up being an interesting course about human interaction. I wonder if there is any critique of the self-help movement.

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