Remember the excitement you felt when you got a set of pencils with your name embossed on them? These days, personalisation is everywhere. So what happened – and is it good for our kids?
In a world where blogging, vlogging and selfie-taking are just day-to-day activities, is it any surprise that a big area of retail growth is in personalised gifts? Not really. We're all naturally a bit egocentric and children are even more so. What could be more exciting for a child than seeing their own name on a toy, stationery item or book?
Back in the seventies and eighties, you'd be lucky to get a pen with your name on from a great aunt who saw it as a practical way of keeping track of your belongings.
Not exactly the most exciting line-up of stocking fillers...
But times have changed, and now a wealth of children's toys, books and accessories are available with the recipient's name on. You can still get pens, of course, but you can also find anything from a personalised teddy bear, a print for a bedroom wall, or even a superhero cape with your child's name emblazoned across the back.So what's so good about an item being personalised? It's a lot more than knowing that it's likely to make its way back to you if it gets lost. Children have stronger attachment to personalised possessions and see them as more valuable and less replaceable.
But having your child's name on something is more than that, says Emma Atkinson, founder of Idle Designs and mum to Freya, one. She creates personalised name prints for children's bedrooms.
"Having your child's name on something when they are first born reinforces the fact that they are a new person in their own right – and in some ways validates your choice of name for them," says Emma.
"Then as they grow, it becomes a learning curve for the child: they see their name, and start to become familiar with it as a word. And never underestimate the power of posterity!
Personalisation of children's products is a great technique to motivate kids and create feelings of empowerment and sense of ownership. So what better area to apply it to than books? Especially when a survey from the National Literacy Trust reported recently that a third of children felt reading was 'uncool' and that they believed parents were not interested in their reading.
However, although for years we've been able to get personalised children's books, they've really just had a name randomly placed throughout the story as a bit of an afterthought. But thanks to technology things are now a bit more exciting.
Lost My Name has pioneered a new way of personalising books by creating a different story for every name. It's an amazing marriage of technology and good old fashioned story telling – software generates a personalised story from a database of over 250 stories and hundreds of illustrations, then a unique algorithm is used to match a child's name and gender to all this.
The result? A written and illustrated book, where a child's name actually forms the story.
So what are the benefits of book personalisation? A recent study revealed that reading personalised books to pre-school children increases their vocabulary more than books without personal information about the child.
"Reading is the gateway to the world of information and creativity", explains Elaine Halligan of The Parent Practice. "There are many ways we can help our children develop a love of reading right from the beginning, and to keep their interest as they progress. Most research on reading agrees that the most important part is how the child actually feels about reading, and positive reinforcement and association really helps.
But to what degree is it necessary to engage our older children – the 'selfie' generation – with personalised items? Or is it just assisting the rise in Narcissistic Personality Disorder?
The National Institute of Health found that for people in their twenties, Narcissistic Personality Disorder is three times as high than the generation that is currently 65 or older (as quoted in Time Magazine's 2013 article on the 'Me Me Me generation').
It's all about moderation, says Elaine. "We must be selective in our choices and not be conned into thinking that we should buy things and personalise them 'because we're worth it'. Children may get the message that their value is tied up in what they own."
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