As adults, we live with reputation issues every day. Someone at work doesn’t like us, so we are passed up for a promotion. Our LinkedIn profile is stale, so we go unnoticed by leaders in our industry. People at the gym gossip about how “unfriendly” we are to the front desk staff. Reputation issues surround us.
Our kids, on the other hand, seem oblivious to how they come across and how they want to be perceived. Whether its toddlers wearing ski boots to preschool in summer, teenagers choosing the right prom date, or college kids contemplating their first job, there are many things kids can learn about reputation and their personal brand.
As little ones, we begin to define our identity in the colors we like best, the toys we prefer and the friends we make on the playground. Our sense of identity is how we see ourselves and how we expect the world to see us. It is preference-based, subjective and feels completely within our control.
Then, we begin interacting with a bigger world. Teachers, coaches, neighbors and friends begin influencing our sense of self as they impose their judgment on our preferences. “Cool kids like this song.” As our sense of self is challenged, we are introduced to the importance of perception and reputation.
Later in our schooling, our counselors, coaches and teachers begin grooming us for our future in college, then career. We are now defined by what we will become and not by who we think we are. This causes some of us to assimilate to those around us, even to the point of losing our sense of identity.
Our career rewards us for the milestones and successes we achieve against the goals set for us, often by corporations and others ahead of us on the corporate ladder. With time, we are offered “better” jobs with more money, more fun and more exposure. We go without questioning that our actions are based on what someone else thinks we would enjoy or be good at.
We could, instead, teach children to consider their reputation and identity as a tool of empowerment. We could teach young people how to confidently define their reputation in authentic ways to ensure they make career choices that are intentional and rewarding because of who they are, not just what they do.
Start with values. Successful and sustainable personal brand strategies start with a clear understanding of one’s values and ability to act consistently with those values. Raising children through the lens of values-driven behavior ensures we produce adults with a moral compass. It gives young people armor against peer pressure and corporate stresses that drag down their career and sense of identity.
Watch the narrative. As adults, we can pay better attention to the narrative we teach our children. Instead of focusing on the negative or sending sub-text about their shortcomings and inadequacies, we can find opportunity to highlight their uniqueness and call attention to their individual strengths. Moving parenting from iron glove methods or rewarding everything to the point of dilution of impact, we can call attention to the instances when a young person shows their authenticity, builds relationships based on values and makes choices from a place of integrity, rather than peer pressure.
Navigating the online playground. The world of social media and online networking will feel natural to kids in the 21st Century. What was peanut butter and jelly to baby boomers is Instagram and Candy Crush to today’s youth.
Teaching young people how to show up, behave and form relationships online by stressing intentionalality and forethought about their photos, posts, comments, friends, and shares, ensures they look at the world through a discriminating lens. Adults know the planet is smaller today because of technology. With all the good that comes from rapid flow of communication, reputations are destroyed every few minutes around the globe.
Empowering our youth to own and drive their in-person and online reputations — from their school ground antics to their choice of college internship to the tattoos photos they post on Pinterest — ensures they are building a reputation that can afford them opportunities in the future.