What’s in a Name? The Labels Our Students Wear

Name-calling, labeling, is almost always based on a generalization and stereotype and we need to value and respect people as individuals, so name-calling is probably best avoided.  However, some of the labels that are given to people may have a grain of truth in them.  While we don’t necessarily want to totally accept and believe them, or perpetuate them, holding the mirror up and questioning them may be helpful.

Name-calling, labeling, is almost always based on a generalization and stereotype and we need to value and respect people as individuals, so name-calling is probably best avoided.  However, some of the labels that are given to people may have a grain of truth in them.  While we don’t necessarily want to totally accept and believe them, or perpetuate them, holding the mirror up and questioning them may be helpful.

Consider some of the labels that have been given to our college students.  While some are extreme, the labels may be based on some truth.  Understanding the label and confronting it may be the first step toward addressing an issue – and defining a new identity for our students.

Who are our college students?

Millennial generation –these students, born after 1982, are confident, self-expressive, high-achieving and upbeat.  They are also sheltered, pressured, and feel they are unique and special. 

Kidults  – these students between the ages of 18-27 are no longer adolescents, but they are not yet adults.  They are in a new lifestage often called emerging adulthood. These students are self-focused, in transition, hopeful about their future, and busy exploring their identity.  One day they feel like adults and the next day they long for childhood.

Trophy kids – these students received trophies for everything in which they participated while growing up.  Participation alone made you a winner and no one ever lost. 

Boomerang kids – these are the students who left home, possibly to attend college, and then returned to live with their parents again (which is often a factor in why they fit the label of kidults).  They need to navigate their new role in the family.

Teacups – good china teacups are lovely, but they are fragile and easily breakable.  If a good cup has a chip or crack, it is flawed.  These students have been protected all their lives and are fragile and sensitive.

Crispies or toasties – Crisp because they are burned out, these students spent many of their earlier years driving forward and seeking to excel.  They are worn out.

Turtles – like their animal counterparts, these students retreat into their shells at the slightest sign of trouble.  They are slow and passionless.

Tightrope generation – these are the students of contradiction who can fall in either direction.  They are in a hurry to grow up, but more dependent on adults than earlier generations.  They are global citizens, but know little about other cultures.  They are constantly in touch with others electronically, but have difficulty with personal communication.  They are truly digital natives in a world that has not yet caught up with them.  (For more see the book Generation on a Tightrope by Arthur Levine and Diane Dean)

Do any of these names ring true?  Do you see your student here anywhere?  The point, of course, is not so much whether we completely agree with these identifiers, but whether they cause us to think about how we act, who are children are and what we can do to help them succeed.