The other day I found myself captivated by a slew of “America’s Got Talent” child singers’ first performances. The videos have millions of views; the reactions of the crowd, the other judges, the children, the families of the children, and the rest of the world are largely the same: this is a good thing. This child will have a great future. This child’s dream has come true. Thank goodness someone has recognized her hidden talent and saved her from anonymity. But I can’t help but wonder— what’s so bad about childhood anonymity? What’s so bad about anonymity in general?
It’s ironic how we watch the lives of so many child stars break down under the pressures of fame, and yet, we still think that if a child has some sort of talent or gift, then as many people as possible need to know— especially if that child is our child. Social media increases this temptation exponentially. If your child does anything better than other kids— if your child does something hilarious even while under the effects of anesthesia— society encourages you to post it on YouTube with the hopes that it will go viral. These days, any of us can become famous. Nobody knows this better than the adolescents of “Generation Z” or “I-Gen,” many of whom are living a social-media dominated existence. Unfortunately, many of these adolescents are alarmingly unhappy.
Fame is a dangerous thing. It isn’t bad in and of itself but it becomes bad as soon as it is sought for its own sake. Fame should be a carefully managed side effect of a much nobler goal. You have something wonderful to share with the world— a piece of music, an invention, a new medicine, a book— that’s great. Share it. But then protect your soul from the dangers that come from constant, widespread, public attention. I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to publicize and market ourselves or our products and services. I’m just saying you play with fire when you become a star. Don’t do it unless you are pretty sure that you should.
Sharing good things can make those good things even more valuable. Whether it’s your talent, your home and resources, your children and family— I think it’s generally good to share those things with people who need/appreciate them. I’m not anti-sharing or anti-the-apps-that-help-you-share. But our brains are not wired for the kind of wide-spread sharing that the social media age affords us. Our brains are not wired for fame. Children’s brains are especially not wired for it. I’m not saying it’s wrong to have thousands of people following your Instagram posts. But I am saying it’s not natural. And if it’s your reality, make sure you know how to manage the way it affects you. And make sure you know that you always have the option to keep your circle smaller. Even if it can be good to share good things, a good thing does not cease to be good simply because only a few people know about it. Indeed, some of the most precious things in the world are shared by just two people— and that intimacy, that privacy is part of what makes the things so precious.
So, if you’re good at something— that’s great. Maybe share it with the world… or maybe don’t. But make sure you spend some time really thinking about both options. If your child does something hilarious or genius— that’s also great. Maybe share it with the world… but seriously consider not sharing it with a circle so wide that it could make your child a star in five minutes.
I remember the first time I read/watched Pride and Prejudice and being surprised by how talented most of the characters were. Almost everyone could do something artistic or musical, and do it well. But the whole world didn’t have to know. In fact, there might have only been ten families that would know about someone’s incredible gift for playing the “pianoforte.” And that would be perfectly okay. Prior to our extreme modern connectivity almost everyone who was good at anything remained in their little town with their little family, sharing their gifts with those closest to them. That didn’t make them feel restless or insecure or insignificant. The beauty was beauty enough on its own. It still can be today. You can have a wonderful life or a wonderful gift without being famous. And there’s a very good chance you’ll be better off if you’re not.
Picture: Pride and Prejudice film, 2005