I will admit to erring on the side of caution when it comes to the special snowflake syndrome. I hate it so much that I’m probably a little too hard on the kids, a little too quick to mutter, “Who do you think you are?” as a response to selfish or rude behaviour.
When I am out and about with them, I can frequently be heard saying, “Speak quietly. Share the sidewalk. Hold the door. Offer to help.” I’d like them not only to observe others’ needs, but to anticipate and assist with them. I want, paradoxically, to raise confident but self-effacing children. It is, I will add, a work in progress, because my kids are not naturally self-effacing or quick to observe others’ needs before their own. Children are, perhaps, all too willing to eat up the special snowflake treatment.
I don’t like entitlement. I don’t like it in individuals; I don’t like it in communities, classes or nations. I’d like my kids to feel like valued citizens in their world, and I don’t think that special snowflake status is particularly conducive to good citizenship.
But more than that, I don’t think that being told one is special is particularly conducive to personal growth, either. In his interview with Leonard Marcus in Show Me a Story, Mo Willems tells about his time writing for Sesame Street.
As writers, we were required each season to attend a weeklong seminar on child development research, … [and] one year we had a fabulous speaker who told us, “I saw a sign in a school that said, ‘Everyone is number one.’ Well, that’s a statistical impossibility. Someone is going to be number eighty-three and somebody is going to be ninety-two.” That rocked my world! Philosophically, a lot clicked for me that day. Kids, like me, are constantly failing at things, but we live in a culture that is terrified of admitting even the slightest mistake. Personally, my legion of personal and professional failures have turned out to be quite helpful for me in the long run. … Besides, failure is always funny. (268)
You heard it from Sesame Street and Mo, folks. Failure is essential to success. We should not be setting our kids up as number one, as special snowflakes, who, in some kind of weird conjuring are told that even when they do make mistakes that they are still perfect, unique and impossibly irreplaceable individuals. In the real world, people who glibly make mistakes and who do not learn from them are replaceable. So we work harder and better and more. Not to be perfect, not to be number one, but to be good. To make good. Trying hard is, surely, the better route to self-esteem than hearing Mummy endlessly and emptily sing your praises. I want my kids to believe that they are the most important and most impossibly irreplaceable people to me. It’s a relative concept. Out in the world, I want them to feel part of a network that depends on their hard work, not on a specious sense of entitlement.
The only thing more galling that entitlement in children is entitlement in adults. Well said, Nathalie!
Great post, Nathalie. Enjoyed reading the connection to failure and perfection, the latter being, of course, for the birds.