What are memes? It’s quite possible that parents like me have wondered what
their children were referring to when they said, “Look at this meme!”
Although a bit confused by this term, we might have pretended to have the
situation entirely under control, not asking what it is so as to not point
out the generational gap between our kids and ourselves. At that point, we
began to have an unexpected look into our children’s world.
If we allow ourselves to be curious – instead of labelling this new way of
communicating as a waste of time, or useless, or even a danger – a fruitful
and stimulating dialogue between our kids and us can begin.
The origin of memes
It’s a word that comes from the Greek word mímēma, which means
“imitation.” The term was first coined by Richard Dawkins, a British
biologist, in his 1976 book, “The Selfish Gene,” which studied how concepts
of evolutionary biology apply to cultural information. According to
Dawkins, similarly to a gene, a meme is a unit of cultural information, an
idea, a behavior, which is transferred from one person to another and
spreads quickly and virally. Therefore, they are “elements of a culture or
a civilization” that are transmitted by non-genetic means – rather, through
Today we speak about “internet memes,” which are images or videos
accompanied by funny phrases, which eventually spread virally around the
internet. Virality – or rapid diffusion on the web – is an essential
characteristic of memes, without which they would simply be iconic
messages. A chain effect occurs, giving rise to consensus and sharing,
reaching even millions of people through social media.
The success of memes is due to the fact that they are easily “consumed” and
have the sole purpose of entertaining (although sometimes they do contain
important content). During the quarantine, many memes circulated – some
inspired by current events and others by statements of politicians or
scientists. Some were hilarious, while others pointed out rather serious
Returning to the dialogue with our children, memes can bring together two
seemingly opposite and distant worlds; in fact, many memes portray various
facets of adolescent life, moods, and thoughts, including difficulties they
might have in relationships with their peers, parents, and school.
Memes bring about certain awareness which, occurring on a basis of healthy
irony; help us not to label, not to judge, and not to lose patience.
Rather, they help us to discover – with a smile – how it’s possible to
patiently endure our children’s maturing and help us to understand their
world. Conversely, when they see a meme about the strange behaviors or
fixations of us parents, they discover that they are not the only
victims of “old” and “severe” parents. The laughter that memes bring out of
them, along with helping them feel like part of a community, embodies the
phrase “misery loves company,” and they will probably view our faults and
us with more leniency.
Intelligent ways to use the language of memes
We adults often mislabel all new things from the youngest generation as
useless. But this couldn’t be more wrong! Here are a few examples of how
memes may be useful: in school, they may help to summarize or memorize
philosophical theories or historical events, in other educational realms,
they may be used in oratories or in contexts of aggregation in ways to
involve children in the meetings. Of course, there are those that are a bit
extreme or vulgar, but that’s when we as parents or educators take
advantage of an opportunity to teach our children about choices. We are
able to show them, using that one example, how everything has both a
positive side and a negative side. It’s up to us to distinguish the good
from the bad, following our conscience, which naturally leans toward the
Let’s not close ourselves off in our inability to understand what
technology means to our children, but let’s experience it together with
them by being taught and being enthusiastically involved in innovations.
That way, we may become their allies.