According to the entire internet, as a result of a single Dutch study parents are turning their kids into raging narcissists by consistently doling out lavish praise simply for existing. Who knew, right?? Haha, just kidding. We all knew, which is why a study like that goes viral in zero to 60 seconds flat. People love having their suspicions justified, and nothing elicits a hearty “I told you so!” more than a study confirming that today’s children are raised to be entitled and focused on personal gain rather than the greater good. I’m guessing next week’s viral sensation will involve a study claiming that kids who stare at screens for 23 hours a day are antisocial jerks who can’t fold their own underwear. It’ll be a huge surprise!
Special Snowflake Syndrome is a subject I’ve given a lot of thought and dedicated many words to over the years. Social media dynamics play a big role in how parents present their children to the online world and contribute to parents’ expectations of both their children and themselves. Particularly in capitalist countries, where financial success and competitiveness are often touted as two of the most important characteristics a person should have, it can be tough to eschew keeping up with the Jones’s – especially if the Jones’s are only posting the absolute best aspects of their children’s developmental “successes” online. Barf.
How can parents NOT expect their kids to compete with their friends’ kids when every single achievement is posted on Facebook? For some people, it takes self-discipline to avoid posting pictures of report cards. Rather than treat their kids as typical humans who are going to fail and succeed in varying areas of study and social development, those parents are determined to drill into their child that they're capable of greatness, and not just being great, but being the greatest. From the time their kids are born, parents wildly clap their hands when babies exceed their expectations in any way, and frown when they appear to be “falling behind.” Positive reinforcement gets blown way out of proportion, and kids are taught that they matter, they deserve to be appreciated, and they’re the best at something, even if it’s just tying their shoes. If a baby rolls over a little early, that means she’s going to be a world renowned cardiologist after graduating from Harvard Medical School. If she walks at ten months, she’s going to be an Olympic figure skater. By the time a toddler turns two, everyone’s favorite word to hate – gifted – gets trotted out every time the child says “please” and “thank you” or expresses an opinion. Kids think they deserve constant adulation just for being polite and learning their ABCs.
By holding children up like Simba and bragging that they’re the smartest, quickest to adapt, and ahead of every curve, parents do their kids a massive disservice. This can be seen in just about every scenario in real life, but online, it’s especially annoying. Bragging about your kid eating a burrito in record time can be okay, but bragging about your kid counting higher, faster, and in more languages than any other kid is pretty odious. Creativity and individuality are ruled out in favor of superlatives, as if those things actually make a difference down the road. Usually, they don’t. When kids grow up to discover this tragic reality, they can’t make sense of it. Why doesn’t the world bend to their every whim? Why can’t they customize everything to suit their desires? Where are the stainless steel refrigerators and $250K salaries?
It’s crucial that parents stop treating their kids like special snowflakes. They're growing up to be demanding little shits who hardly know what paying their dues even means. This means not only allowing kids to have more responsibility, but also not telling them every other second how important and amazing and better they are than everyone else. Doing that doesn't breed empathy. It just creates tiny monsters who grow up to be greedy and spoiled, expecting automatic success in all fields of life. It teaches kids that life isn’t about the journey; it’s about how accomplished you are on paper, or on Facebook. Remember, parents: Next time you feel the urge to post about what an exceptional child you have (as a direct extension of what an exceptional parent you are), consider that every child is equally special in his or her own way, and we can't all be Beyoncé. In the meantime, here are some examples of Facebook parents who might be taking Special Snowflake Syndrome a little too far.
1. Details, Percentages, And Possible Outcomes
Krystal is her kids' nightmare and they don't even know it yet. These stupid percentages are as dumb as the concept of graduating with a 4.2 GPA. What does "115% athletic" even mean? That he's 115% as likely to play baseball as he is to play soccer, or that he's going to play basketball and be like Michael J. Fox in that scene in "Teen Wolf" when he "changes"? Sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for.
2. "Advanced Reading"
"Excuse the mess he's making memories" HAHAHAHA. No, Danielle, he's practicing something I like to call "being a baby." He's holding a baby book comprised of drawings, not reading "Infinite Jest." And those "memories" will be gone faster than he can say "goldfish memory-span." No, really, by the time he learns how to say "goldfish memory-span" this little scholar in the making will have completely forgotten about this day, those toys, and that book. Sorry?
3. Above-Average Infants
I'm not sure what's more annoying -- that this book exists, or that people actually buy it. Suffice it to say, both of Victoria's parents are evidently engineers. And yet they've decided not to push their careers on their daughter at all! She's totally free to decide who she wants to be and what she's interested in, so long as it involves n degree polynomials and the average -- sorry, mean -- high schooler's least favorite math subject. I'm guessing Scarlet would rather chew on this book than make sense of its lessons, but maybe that's just because 99.99% of infants and don't do more than occasionally cry and gurgle. Perhaps Nikki should go back to statistics.
4. #obnoxiousmom #giftedisarelativeterm
Terrible hashtags -- which deserve a column unto themselves -- are to be avoided at all costs. If there's one thing you can do as a parent on social media, it's not say shit like "#scarysmart" or "#goodgenes" online, because it makes you sound like an #ass. Also, I hate to break it to Lisa, but a lot of kids in younger grades qualify for higher gifted programs or reading levels because standards are often set relatively low in our school systems. In fact, I was one of those kids myself, and look where I am now? Writing about poop jokes and mommyjacking on the internet. It doesn't take a genius to see that those qualifications are somewhat arbitrary. There might even be a correlation between younger kids testing extremely well and then becoming Starbucks baristas later in life as a result of parental pressure. I'd have to ask the calculus-enriched infant in the previous example to be sure, though.
5. Pretentious Parents
Green comes in with some reasoned logic here, and yet she still comes off as grating. Blue is the parent at the playground who you never, ever want to get stuck talking to unless you enjoy hearing rambling tales about very accomplished toddlers who count in Italian. I can't imagine how many of Purple and Blue's friends' eyes have glazed over the second kids after enter the conversation. Who cares if some kids are speaking in foreign languages while others are quietly eating their boogers? Most children develop differently, so whenever parents mention how "weird" it is that their kids are surpassing certain benchmarks, what they're really saying is, "Funny how my parenting style is so much more superior to other people's?" or, "What a coincidence that my kid, of all kids, happens to be a total brainiac!" Give it a rest, overachieving parents. Let your kids eat dirt and stop making them talk in Italian all the time. It may be enriching, but you could be setting them up to be self-important, precocious brats. The apple doesn't fall from the tree.