The Problem With Branding Kids: They’re Growing

Here’s an interesting take on being true to yourself as a college applicant by Mike Chapman, as seen through the Tebow lens.  Tim Tebow, that is.
 The Problem With Branding Kids:  Theyre GrowingThough football is finally done for the season, and Eli Manning stole the show at the Super Bowl, Tebow was really the “It Guy” of the season.  He was the star of so many blogs and sports pieces and I can understand why, since he’s a true minority – someone who is willing to be his true self, lousy passes and all.  I respect him because of this and the authentic work he does with disabled kids and their families.

(As an aside, though, I can’t let the Tebow topic go without remarking about this public adulation of his behavior on the field. We get all warm inside about a handsome young white athlete who is willing to publicly express his Christian devotion, but would we feel the same way if he was Muslim, if at the end of each game he knelt facing Mecca to pray to Allah, if he quoted the Koran in tweets and to the press, if those were Koran references in Arabic on his cheeks?   Nah, he’d be booed by crowds everywhere, probably fired and certainly wiretapped by the FBI. OK, back to the topic…

While I agree that most of the five pieces of advice for college applicants made in the Chapman piece are good ones, I challenge his #2 suggestion to “establish your brand and communicate it”.    I get the concept.  Know thyself and stay true to that.  I agree, great advice. But I get crazy when educators and college admissions professionals use the term “brand”. Words are important and they often take on a life of their own, like the word “passion” did a decade ago in college admissions. “Brand” has become a colloquial term for identity, but it really doesn’t mean that at all. “Brand” connotes a consistent product that is being marketed for public consumption and here’s where I deviate from Mike Chapman and others.  This business mindset that has permeated American discourse has no business in the education of kids.

Sorry, fellow entrepreneurs, but people are not brands.  People are people.

Teenagers are growing, guys.  They generally don’t have a clue what their “brand” is, just as they didn’t have a clue what their “passion” was years ago, because they’re just getting through their days, consumed with trying to meet often-conflicting demands from adults while struggling to stay afloat in the raging rapids of their social networks.  The job of the adolescent is to come to understand who they are relative to others.  This process takes years, since their brains continue growing well past the age of 25.  Why in the world would we expect them to think of themselves as “brands” when they are changing so rapidly, when they barely know themselves as individuals, when they can hardly think past tomorrow?

Expecting them to “establish your brand and communicate it” becomes just another unrealistic expectation by the adults in their world, spooling up more anxiety in their parents who are liable to take this brand advice to heart if it means getting their kid into Harvard. Our job as adults is to calm young people down and assure them in every way we know how that they are OK the way they are, messiness and all.  They don’t need to concoct passions or a brand identity to make us happy or to be admitted to college.  They just have to be themselves and find a college that will love them for that.

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