The sports season just ended and you and the other parents are bursting with pride watching each child receive a participation trophy with their teammates. Of course, we hate to see our children disappointed, so when we notice that every kid is holding a golden statue, we utter a collective parent sigh: “They all feel special!”
The “Every Kid Gets a Prize” is a staple of modern-day parenting. Even coaches and the sports industry are jumping on board. The local chapter of one national sports association spends roughly 12 percent of its yearly budget on trophies just to make sure that every kid feels special—even if it’s just for “showing up.” But beware: our good-hearted trend may actually backfire and diminish-notnurture-our children’s self-esteem, character and resilience. Here are six reasons to stop the trend, and pronto.
1. Curtails character. Our children develop character traits like perseverance, dependability, and trustworthiness by rolling up their sleeves, practice and giving tasks their personal best. Awarding kids for putting on a uniform or just contributing is honoring mediocrity, not excellence, and it robs our kids of the opportunity to strengthen their character. And character is what helps our children become good people.
2. Short-changes life preparation. Life is tough. Success is hard work. Truth be told: the real world doesn’t give out ribbons, medals, awards and trophies just for participation. Ask yourself: “If my child thinks that all she has to do is show up to earn the big prize, what message does she learn? Let’s not allow our kids to believe that they can take the easy way out and rely on others to do the heavy hitting. Doing so won’t prepare children for the real world.
3. Robs authentic self-esteem. In all fairness, a big reason many parents joined the “trophy bandwagon” is because they assumed that it would nurture their children’s self-esteem. But research shows that authentic self-esteem is comprised of two parts: a feeling of worthiness (“I am a worthwhile person”) and a feeling of competence (“I am capable to handle life.”) While that trophy may make kids feel special in the moment, it doesn’t endure. Real self-esteem is gained from praise, pats on the back or trophies that are earned, and kids are quick to recognize they did nothing to warrant the award.
4. Curtails resilience. Helping kids cope with adversity must be part of our parenting agendas. Life has bumps. Children become more tolerant to frustration when they are exposed to setbacks in small doses. When those bigger challenges come along they realize they can handle them. Giving every kid a trophy as a means to cushion their disappointment about not being the best not only reduces their chances to realize that they can bounce back, but also curtails their resilience.
5. Devalues authentic success. I’ll never forget when my college-bound son handed me a box of his trophies culled from being on dozens of teams. “They don’t mean anything,” he explained, since everyone had the same medal. He saved just one medal from a team History Day competition that was well-earned from their hard work. If every kid gets the trophy, then their “real win” isn’t special and they fail to reap the joy that comes from realizing that their efforts paid off.
6. Teamwork. It’s natural for parents to want to help their kids feel good, but what we may be missing is helping them care about others and support their teammates. The world isn’t about “me,” it’s about “we.” And in today’s diverse, global world our children must learn to collaborate and support each other. One way to do so is by encouraging them to recognize the strengths and talents of others and to congratulate their teammates for their talents. We must help our kids think “WE,” not “ME.”
Let’s stop this craze of giving every kid a trophy just for showing up. The practice is not beneficial to children’s character development. Instead, tell your son or daughter that you are proud that they were a team player and that you loved going to those games or event. Do snap that photo of your child, but make sure your son or daughter is in a group shot with all his or her teammates. Now there is the memory that both you and your child will want to preserve!