Have you ever had bubble gum stuck in your hair? What about that stain on your favourite shirt that just did not want to come out? Getting labelled has pretty much the same effect – you get something you did not ask for and it is very difficult to get rid of.
Can labelling be dangerous?
It all depends on how teenagers perceive the labelling. Teenagers with a strong self-image may be hurt by the remarks, but usually they will work through it and forget about it. However, not all teenagers are able to do this. Some will take it personally and be deeply hurt while others will accept or believe the label and begin to act on it. Either way, the chances are good that the label will influence how they view themselves and unless they get rid of it, it may have serious consequences ranging from negatively influencing or shaping their personality to damaging their future.
Are there different types of labelling?
Yes, negative and positive labelling. Negative labelling is the type that breaks down a person in some form. “You and your dad are both losers” is a perfect example of a negative label. Such labelling can bring about self-doubt, break down their self-image and confidence, make them feel bad and keep them from believing in themselves or achieving what they are capable of.
Positive labelling on the other hand places unnecessary pressure on a person. “You are a Khumalo and we Khumalo’s never fail. We are achievers who always win.” While the negative label may sound worse, positive labels may place the type of pressure on teenagers that can drive them to drugs or even suicide. Especially when they feel too much is expected from them or that they cannot live up to the expectations of their parents.
Why is labelling so dangerous?
- Labels can create lasting beliefs. Especially when it comes from a parent. “After all, why will my parent label or say something about me if it was not true,” is what many teenagers may think.
- Adolescence is the time when teenagers shape their self-image. For some this is a time of confusion and uncertainty which can make them susceptible to believing a label.
- Labels can produce emotions that are difficult, or nearly impossible, for some to deal with. In the case of negative labelling it can cause a sense of hopelessness where they believe they are not good enough or are not capable of achieving much. In the case of positive labelling it can bring fear of failure, stress to perform or pressure to please others.
- Many people find it easy to believe the negative or bad about themselves. Especially when they have not learned to question something before they believe it or to look at the facts instead of allowing themselves to be led by their emotions.
How to prevent labelling?
Don’t label your teenagers in any way!
A helpful technique is to label or address the behaviour and not the person. Instead of saying, “You are so rude,” consider saying, “That was not a nice thing to say.” Better yet, “Is there not a better way to handle this situatiuon? Come on, I know you can. So, let’s try again.”
The “pull” instead of “push” approach is another technique you can use. The aim is to inspire and get your teenagers to believe and accept that they are capable and have potential. The goal is to create inspiration and motivation that comes from within themselves. “Hey, we both know you are capable of doing well. So, do your best and I will be happy.”
Labels do not inspire people to greatness. It is the wise and powerful words spoken in love by parents that does this.