I’ve been pondering why, in recent years, young people seem obsessed with taking pictures of themselves. Smart phones made selfies possible, of course, but everyone and their grandmother (literally) has a smart phone and access to selfies if they want them, yet 18-37 year-olds are the demographic snapping most of them, according to research. I have a fascinating theory as to why.
Everywhere we look and especially with our young kids, it seems their being better than someone else is being eschewed. Instead, sameness seems the order of the day, for fear one’s special achievements may make others feel “less special.” No longer do our children compete for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place ribbons. Instead, everyone gets a “participation trophy,” so that no one seems better than another. This has become customary since the 1980’s, when self-esteem became the buzzword of the day. Indeed, child development specialists tell us that self-image develops by age four and self-respect by age 6 – exactly the age group getting those “participation trophies,” but do we really know what creates or destroys self-image and self-respect?
Although this push toward uniformity may be well-intentioned, IE: not wanting a child’s feelings to be hurt because others succeeded and they did not, in reality might it be denying them one of their most important human instincts – the Desire to Be Great or Important? It’s one of a set of basic instincts, along with Fear, Jealously and yes, Competition which are hard-wired into every one of us. In a society that may frown on letting some children be more “great” than others regardless of abilities, we have to ask ourselves – are we rubbing Mother Nature the wrong way by denying winners and losers? In Her world, Mother Nature is all about different abilities and degrees of effort, and different results because of them. You can’t be Great if you are the Same. The children born into the new age of participation trophies would be, by my calculation, 35 years old and younger today.
What happens when you deny a powerful, instinctive need? It can’t go away. It just finds other outlets and Selfies could be one of them. If we shave the edges off our kids’ individuality and unintentionally deny them their chance to Be Great or Important in their own right, could it explain – years after the age of participation trophies and the formation of self-image – our young people’s fascination with Selfies, where they can now be the star of every photo – even landmarks or sunsets? Or social media where they can tell the world how great their life is and their number of “Likes” can validate their sense of personal importance? And which generation more than any other in our history sees itself as the one that must make a difference, save the planet, etc.? Yep. It’s those 18 to 37 year-olds again.
So, here’s the question of the day: Have selfies, social media “Likes” and saving the planet taken the place of real trophies and ribbons of different colors because we denied a generation their instinctive need to be Great when they were young?
Next time your child is handed a Participation Trophy, think about this and the benefits of winning and losing as real opportunities to be Great or Important. It reminds me of an iconic margarine commercial from years ago that exclaimed, “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature!” LOL!