If you are like me, clothing care labels are more confusing than helpful. Many of those international symbols are not quite as clear as I am sure their designers had hoped. Attempting to place labels on people can cause confusion and a lot of unintended problems as well.
Think about it. What labels have you been given over the years? Daughter, wife and mother are probably on your list (unless you are a dad!). Were you ever told you were slow or difficult or fat? What about gifted, beautiful or smart? Now dig even deeper. What, if anything, did those labels do to define you and what you were or weren’t capable of being or doing? Or how you believe others see you? Or if you are capable of being considered lovable by others or even God?
I recently listened to a speaker trying to explain the reason so many young people aren’t following God. We were then subjected to a solid twenty minutes or more of detailed explanations about the various generations and their labels. You’ve probably heard it. Baby boomers like XYZ. Millennials hate ABC. If you just do 123, GenX people will return to Church.
Whenever my husband and I hear these particular labels and generalizations, we just look at each other and roll our eyes. You see, even though we are only 18 months apart in age, our parents have an almost 20 year gap in their ages. My husband has many of the same attitudes and experiences as my parents, even though he and I are in the same group label. My husband’s older parents meant his experiences were more like those of my parents rather than those of mine, his generational peer.
That’s the problem with labeling. It is based on the assumption those with the label are pretty much exactly alike based merely on one or more characteristics. It concludes that everyone with a certain attribute will think or act in the same way. Labels assume people with certain labels have certain limitations. People with other labels are valued immediately for their label, even if they have little in common with the assumed characteristics of that label.
In reality, God created individuals. He made each of us different. Even identical twins will have differences based on their personalities and the things that happen to them during their lives. While our brain wants to organize and classify groups of people to simplify life, it is dangerous for parents to label their children.
Part of the problem is that young children are concrete thinkers (I realize the irony of inserting a label here!). “It is what it is” could be their motto. When you tell a four year old she is ugly – even if you just meant a particular outfit didn’t flatter her (I still would never say that to anyone!), she believes she is ugly. By the time she is old enough for more abstract thoughts, it has probably already become ingrained in her definition of herself that she is ugly…especially if she has heard it more than once.
You probably already realize negative labels can hurt children, but I believe positive labels can damage, too. I think it is important to encourage our children, but try to avoid using the same word over and over – especially to the exclusion of other words. Children constantly defined by their appearance or their intelligence will eventually believe that is their only worth to others. If and when something happens to that positive aspect, they can often crumble. Will others still love them if they have a bad hair day or make a “D” on a test?
There are two labels I think God desires for your kids. “Christian” and “godly” (“A man or woman after God’s own heart.”) Those labels are the labels God wants you to be able to give your kids and the way He wants them to see themselves.
You can’t avoid others giving your children labels, but you can soften the effect they can have on your children. Pay attention to how often you tell your kids they are “whatever” – especially to others or on social media. Make a very firm rule in your home that siblings are not allowed to give each other negative labels and/or nicknames. Finally, advocate for your child. Schools may force labels in order to make sure your children receive the academic help they may need. Stop anyone though, who insists on calling your child by the label on a regular basis. Correct those who assume your child is always a negative label just because he/she acted a certain way under a particular set of circumstances. Remind your children they are much more than just the one positive label they may hear over and over from everyone.
You can’t stop labeling, but encourage your children to refuse to let labels define or limit them in any way. Remind them their weaknesses can often be overcome and their strengths can disappear. Their real value is in how God sees them. That is one label that will never change. “I am loved by God.”