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Everyone Gets a Trophy: How it's Hurting Our Kids
Everyone Gets a Trophy
The Trophy Generation
The Question of Self-Esteem
Not too long ago, some well meaning person or persons, decided that we needed to give all students a trophy, just for participating. There became an unwritten rule that it was "wrong" to celebrate winning, because it would hurt the losers' feelings. So, now a team who goes undefeated in Little League Baseball will get a trophy, but so will all the children who came in last place and did not win a single game.
This idea is nice in theory, but it has had an unexpected consequence on the generation I refer to as the "Trophy Generation." These students have learned that no matter how much effort or lack there of they put in, they will receive a reward. This has caused a generation of students who believe that they are owed a reward, even if they have done nothing to earn it. This reward for nothing has taught them that they will receive a reward, just for being "special." I would argue that our behavior has taught many of them that they do not have to put forth the work in order to get a prize. Just like Pavlov's dog learned that when a bell rang he would get food and thus when he heard a bell, he began to salivate, even in the absence of food. Our kids have learned that they will get a reward, even if it is not deserved.
We cannot be upset with our children for learning this behavior because we have spent years instilling this idea in them. Of course, we still have students who despite our best efforts work hard and strive to be the winner, as competition itself drives them, but way too many have been rewarded for nothing for way too long. This brings up the question of what is fair and what is right?
Fair versus Right
I have thought about this countless times as a mother and teacher, is it fair for a student who turned in an assignment three days late to get the same grade as a student who turned it in on time. Logically, most would say no, but this is exactly what is being done in many schools today. Students do not do their homework and unfortunately do not have parents who ensure that their homework is completed. Instead of receiving a zero for not completing the work, teachers are asked to give them another chance.
As an educator, I know that I make mistakes and sometimes forget to do things I am supposed to do, but I also understand that these mistakes have consequences. I am not against allowing students to turn in work late for deducted points, because my ultimate goal is to get them to do the practice work I had assigned to help them master the concepts being taught. However, I find it hard to justify giving a perfect grade to a student who did their assignment on time and one who turned it in three days late. How is that right for the student who completed the assignment on time? I think that this goes back to "Everyone Gets a Trophy" and these students feel they should get a reward just because they completed the work or even if they don't complete the work.
We have spent so much time worrying about our children's self-esteem that we have missed the boat on teaching them that real truths about themselves. Please do not get me wrong, I love my children very much. I am the mother of fraternal twins, one boy and one girl. They are the joy of my life and I am proud of each of them for different character traits they exhibit, but I also am a realist and do not fail to point out areas they could work on or expect them to be given rewards for skills they do not possess.
Let me explain with more detail. My son is very bright, funny and kind. He excels at his school work and not much is a challenge to him. He is outgoing and cares about his fellow classmates and family. I am deeply proud of him and I know he is going to be something great when he grows up. However, my son loves football. When he was small he would tell you that one day he was going to play for Texas A&M and then be on the Miami Dolphins. I allowed him to try football and encouraged him, but I did not sugar coat the fact that he was not very fast. I also was very honest with him about areas that he needed to improve. I could see that he was not an all star. This does not diminish how I feel about my son or the fact that I am super proud of his strengths. It is just a reality that he is not fast and though he has heart, he is just not the best player on the football team. Knowing this, I do not expect that he is going to start each game or hold the misconception that he "deserves" playing time. A game should be about winning, not about fairly playing kids regardless of their ability. I am sure that some of you reading this have made judgements about me as a parent and some perhaps feel sorry for my son. I would share that my son has an excellent self-esteem, makes friends easily and has decided this year to reach out to other sports beyond football to utilize his strengths. He ran cross country and will be on the golf team in the spring. He is amazing!
Now let me give you an example with my daughter. My daughter is an amazing singer, very athletic, kind and compassionate. She excels in reading and is a fantastic writer who shares her talent on the school newspaper. She is amazing and I am so proud of her. I know that one day she is going to become something amazing, but I do not sugar coat what she is not good at with her. My daughter struggles with math and with organization. She has to work very hard to earn Cs in her math class, but every night she diligently sits and works through her homework with her father or me. I am well aware, as is she, that she will never be a mathematician. I do not expect that she will bring home As in Math, nor do I want her to, as I want a true picture of what she knows and how she is doing. What good would it do her if the teacher inflated her grades to give her As? She knows that she is not great in math and that it is a lot more work for her to learn anything in math than most other students. So what does she do? She works harder, gets frustrated, but continues to try. I have no delusions about my daughters abilities and neither does she, but she also knows that math struggles do not define her. I brag on her for what she is truly good at and this gives her direction for her focus. Again, you may feel sorry for her, but she is a very well adjusted, beautiful, smart and happy young lady. She has lots of friends and can tell you what her strengths truly are.
Everyone Should NOT Get a Cookie!
I would argue that I am raising my children the way that I was raised before we started giving every child a trophy, even if they did not win. In fact, most of you reading this article were probably raised in the generation where you only got a trophy if your team won or if you earned the top places. Did it really harm us to not get a trophy if we didn't win? I feel it made me work harder. I wanted that trophy, so I wanted to practice more and it made me perform better. It also taught me that I was not good at everything and sometimes it helped change my direction to point me to areas where I had strengths. For instance, I have always been tall with broad shoulders and a solid build. I so wanted to be a gymnast, but no matter how hard I tried and worked at it, I just could not complete the flips and cart wheels that my smaller, thinner, lighter friends could perform. Was I disappointed? Sure, but guess what, I soon found that I was a great musician and singer. I went on to participate in show choir, theater and musical theater. I was able to find my true talent. What would have happened if my parents and coach had not been honest with me about gymnastics?
Why has it become so terrible to point our kids in the direction where they truly have ability and share with them the truth or as I call it "the reality" about their weaknesses. Having a weakness does not mean that you are bad or incapable of other things, it is just a reality that all of us have weaknesses. Just like my son will probably never be a star football player and my daughter will not be a mathematician and I won't ever be able to do a flip...Those facts do not make us less of a person, I would argue by living in reality that we are better off because we are no longer wasting our time with endeavors that we are not equipped to succeed.
I would suggest...oh the horror...that not every child deserves a cookie or a trophy or a 100. I think we need to challenge ourselves to be better parents, by getting back to the way we grew up and letting our children succeed and fail, then helping them learn from those events. I think this is how we all truly grow because more often than not, we learn more from our mistakes and failures. Yes, we need to be there for our children when they fail to help them see what they could do differently or what else they may want to explore in the place of the failure, but we need to stop giving them a reward for nothing just because we don't want them to hurt.