We don’t mean to do it. But so many of us do it anyway.
“This is my shy one.”
“She’s my tom boy.”
“He’s my clown.”
“She’s my reader.”
“He’s my little athlete.”
“She’s great in spelling.”
“He’s great in math.”
“She doesn’t like sports.”
“He can’t sit still for a minute.”
When we label our children, we unwittingly define them. We provide definite limits that tell our children what we think of them, what we expect of them and who they are to be.
Most of us have heard of the movie, Field of Dreams. The message repeatedly relayed is “If you build it, he will come.” I think of labels similarly; “If you label it, they will BEcome.”
Sometimes, this seems like a win. We label our child a “great student” when we value academics or an “amazing athlete” when we value sports. What could be wrong with that? The problem is detected when we realize that the labels deter the child from taking healthy risks and trying something new. “I am a great student” and therefore “I’m not an athlete.” Or “I’m a great athlete” so “I won’t try out for the school play.”
Labels are accentuated when a comparison is put into the mix. Brothers and sisters are often unintentionally pitted against each other by parents who categorize them. The intention is not to harm, but rather describe. But if we label one child “studious,” another “athletic” and still another “artistic” these areas become that child’s jurisdiction. This can be detrimental to both the labeled and the other sibling. The former can feel trapped and the latter can feel timid about trying that activity.
When it comes to gender, labels can feel like a safety net to ensure gender alignment (i.e. He’s all boy, She’s a girly girl), an affront (he’s effeminate, she’s quote boyish) or a self-fulfilling prophesy (she’s bad in math, he’s a class clown).
As we all want our children, both boys and girls, to have every opportunity to flourish into the person they are meant to become, it’s vital that we stop labeling and acknowledge room for growth, change and reinvention. As a child is “becoming,” there is ebb and flow. Labels can disrupt and “dam” progress and process. To maximize potential, let’s leave development as fluid.
A new alliance I am part of called “Brave Girls Want“, is a force of leadership asking everyone from parents, educators, loved ones, legislators and businesses to support, empower, and encourage brave, adventurous, strong, smart, and spirited girls. We are looking to rid the world of labels that confine, constrict or compress the growth of our girls so they can be their most authentic and awesome versions of themselves.
As part of Brave Girls Want, we are planning to invade Time Square on October 11th, coinciding with the International Day of the Girl. For 7 days we will rent a billboard in Time Square and talk about what we want for our girls and what they are telling us they want for themselves. Fewer limits, more choices. Less photo-shopping, more real images. Less sexualization, more time to enjoy childhood.
Please read about the initiative and help us in any way you can. Check out the IndieGoGo campaign—there are lots of ways to help make this action happen!
After all, these are our girls. All of our girls. And we can make a difference.