A mention of student branding in a recent blog post brought sharp criticism from one reader. It took me by surprise. It became the only comment that I’ve not posted to date. Not because it was critical, but because I thought it was so off the mark. I’ve been contemplating a response ever since.
We live in the 21st century; well, at least most of us do. Like it or not, social media is here to stay and its influence on our lives will only continue to grow. How well we and our children interact with this new media will have a profound impact on how we view others and how they view us. Creating a self-designed image that portrays an accurate picture of oneself can only be done through a process of self-reflection. I like to refer to this as the Polonius factor … ‘to thine own self be true’. Projection and refinement throughout life will one day become second nature.
There are many reasons why a parent should guide their child through this process. Perhaps the most important consideration is that if you don’t do your own branding, someone else will. The reader who found my suggestion so abhorrent seemed to think that branding meant creating a ‘cookie cutter’ image of oneself in order to impress colleges and university admission officers. Nothing could be further from the truth. Truth, in fact, is the most critical part of personal branding. Creating a false image will only result in harming future job prospects and interpersonal relationships. In essence, we are returning to the days of Protagoras, Socrates, and Aristotle when introspection was thought to enrich one’s life, encourage goal setting, and ultimately aid in accomplishing those goals.
Personal branding is a process that may begin any time, but usually not until the teen years. Gifted students will probably begin to ask the pertinent questions such as what are my strengths, my weaknesses, my passions, and my goals sooner than their age-peers. The answers to these questions will help your child begin to formulate the direction they want their life to take; a.k.a., “what do I want to be when I grow up?” This should culminate in the formation of a plan to accomplish goals set during the branding process, and allow for positive steps to be taken to meet these goals.
And what about social media? Through outlets such as Facebook and Twitter, students begin to develop networks of people who share their interests, values, and goals. Connecting with people they meet in school, at camps and conferences, or at social events, and developing relationships can reap many benefits in an increasingly disconnected world. Instead of restricting access to these networks out of fear of what might happen, parents are in the unique position of helping their children to become responsible digital citizens as well as informed citizens who can interact objectively online. Through responsible parenting, you can gain their respect and trust as you act as their personal guidance counselor and partner with them to understand the Internet and how it will affect their lives.
Whether you are a young parent or an older parent, educate yourself about social media and personal branding. Guide your child in a direction that reflects the values you hope to instill in them. It is a brave new world out there and they will thank you one day for being there with them to ensure that their world reflects utopia rather than dystopia.