I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that you’ve almost certainly encountered the following attitude, whether it’s a post on Facebook, a self-righteous HuffPost article, or even in conversation on the sidelines at your kid’s soccer game: The world would not be such a screwed up place if everyone stopped telling their kids that’s they’re such unique, special little snowflakes. Basically, the world would be nicer if we just told our kids they’re just the same as everybody else — no better, no worse — and that they can’t actually do whatever they want with their lives just because they want it.
It’s true; there does seem to be an upcoming generation of children and young people (ok, and plenty of adults) who think that the world revolves around their desires and worldviews. And I completely agree that it’s a disturbing trend. However, is the answer to stop singing our children’s praises? To stop telling them that they are unique and *gasp* special? I just don’t think so. Not for any studied or developmental reason, but simply because it wouldn’t be true.
My kids are special. So are yours. So are the kids down the block. But here’s the key: we can’t stop there. I think we should be telling our kids ceaselessly about the beauty that is each person’s uniqueness – not just theirs’. We have to go on to tell them about how people are special in other ways- that each person has been given beautiful gifts, talents, flaws, and quirks by God. Special doesn’t mean better- it means being wonderfully, terrifyingly, challengingly, and beautifully who you were made to be.
I know what you’re thinking: This is all just a nicer way of saying your kid is a special snowflake, worthy of being protected from the big, bad world. Not at all. In fact, it’s the opposite. If we are teaching our children that each person has their own special dignity and unique purpose on earth, we will raise children who recognize this dignity in all of the people around them and who will be willing to put their own comfort aside to protect the dignity of others.
From the time they are babies, children are able to make assumptions about the world around them based on their own experiences. When a child is made to understand that they are special, they are loved, they are a beautiful part of a larger plan for this world, just as each person living is special, loved, and part of a bigger plan, they will grow up with a more outward-looking, compassionate, and selfless view of the world.
Having an understanding of their gifts should go hand-in-hand of the responsibility they have to use these gifts in the service of God’s plan. Because that’s the point. On the other hand, if a child doesn’t have this understanding, they will look to the world for things to set them apart, like money, prestige, or material possessions. And we’ve all seen where that’s gotten us.
Of course, as with everything we try to teach our children, we have to live it. We have to honor the human dignity of the people around us, as well as the people in the world who are “hidden” in our society. We cannot tell our kids about all the wonderful ways in which God crafted their souls to be unique and special and then avert our eyes from the homeless man standing on the street corner. Or the handicapped child playing next to them at the library. Or the relative who we just have such a hard time getting along with. Our children need to see us loving these people in concrete ways, and hear us talking about the ways in which they are unique and vital to God’s plan for the world.
Some would have us believe that we are creating a generation of spoiled, self-indulgent children because of the way we talk to them about their gifts and talents. This might even be true in some cases. What it really comes down to is the way we show them what we value in them and in others. It’s up to us as our children’s caretakers to show the next generation that everyone is deserving of the dignity of being uniquely, specially created by God.