Participation Trophies: The White Towel In The Ring – Babies & Briefcases

hajjar4By: Cheryl Hajjar – April, 2015

The new trend of “participation trophies” has a lot of parents scratching their heads. Is it right? Is it wrong? And more importantly, is it producing a generation of children that have a sense of entitlement? A recent debate on my Facebook page made me curious to want to dig deeper on this topic, so lets take a look.

The latest Reason-Rupe Poll says that 57 percent of Americans think only the winning team should receive trophies, while 40 percent say that all kids on sports teams should receive a trophy for participation. As different economic, age and political groups come into play, they are unevenly divided. Age group of 50 and over overwhelmingly think that only the winners should receive trophies, while the majority of 18-24 age group believes that everyone should received trophies. Oddly enough this younger generation, the Millenial’s as they are referred to, is the first generation to make less money than their parents. So what is causing this? Is it the technology boom, the economy or just basically a new generation of young kids with a sense of entitlement? It’s hard to say but one thing is certain, it’s not a coincidence.

At a young age, encouragement and mentorship from coaches and teachers is huge. All children benefit from positive reinforcement and hardly ever from negative. Labels like “winner” or “loser” can have a profound effect on children’s psyche. At what age however, do we burst our children’s bubble by telling them that somebody is better than somebody else? That one kid is a better basketball player than another? The harsh reality is there are winners and losers, and there are kids that are better at sports than others, or more academically gifted than the next student.

Those are just the facts.

The greatest lessons in life happen when you actually lose, or fail at something. Failing is actually a good thing. We all know the story of Abraham Lincoln. He lost 8 elections before becoming the President of The United States. No participation trophy there. Failing teaches your child to try harder and never give up. Not giving up inherently leads to the power of a great work ethic, and enables them to become more focused and tenacious in their future endeavors. Telling your child that everyone is a winner is just handicapping their abilities and chances of becoming a well rounded, successful adult.

Carol Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford University, found that kids respond positively to praise and enjoy hearing that they are talented and smart and that they all like their innate abilities to be encouraged. The problem however, is at the first sign of difficulty; they collapse and would rather cheat than risk failure again. By age 4 or 5, it turns out that kids are not fooled by trophies and that they are well aware of who is proficient in a task, and who is not. The child that is proficient in an activity may actually like the uncertainty of the competition, giving it greater appeal. If a child knows they are automatically going to get an award, they why work harder at their skills? You are telling them they are winners anyways, so why would they want to bother improving at an activity?

Giving a participation trophy can have a domino effect. You are essentially telling the child that all they have to do is show up for the praise. As these children become young adults, they grow up thinking that all they have to do at the office is show up and they will get that promotion. Wrong. Big Wrong. That would be a no.

I am famous for telling my 12-year-old son to take pride in his work and to do a good job. I am constantly stressing the point of doing your best. When things come easy to a child, they can become lazy and develop feelings of entitlement and before you know it, your 10 year old is 45 and living in your basement. Not the model citizen you once hoped he or she would be.

By instilling in our children now that hard work equals success and working harder than your neighbor is what is going to get them ahead, not how many trophy’s collecting dust they have sitting on the shelf. Rocky Balboa once said, ”Every champion was once a contender that refused to give up.” The participation trophy is the white towel in the ring.

Teach your children to get in the game. Make mistakes. Lose. Fail a test. Miss a goal. Fall off the bike. Get back on. It’s all good. Lets stop enabling and start inspiring.