Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Should Every Kid Get A Trophy?

There's an interesting trend in the relm of competition among kids, something that seems positive at first, but could actually be having a definite negative impact on society.

It sounds great to say that every kid should get a trophy. Whether it's a scouting event, a junior sports event or some other kind of competition, these days the thinking seems to be that win, lose or draw every participant should receive a trophy.

Sounds good, right? I'm sure adult leaders all over the country pat themselves on that back every time they hand a "Great Attitude" trophy to a kid who just came in last. Congratulations for finding a way to raise the self esteem of children everywhere!

Or not.

You see, there's a fine line between helping build a child's self esteem and sabotaging their work ethic and spirit of competition. Giving every participant a trophy may maintain a certain level of self esteem, but it also undermines a child's inherent drive to succeed.

Ask any teacher, especially in an inner city situation, and you'll find that one of the biggest challenges they face on a daily basis is the sense of entitlement that has taken over the student population. From a very early age they are taught that grades are gifts, not something they earn, that showing up for school is optional, as is following directions from adults once they get there. Parents often side with their children against school personnel, even when the child is clearly in the wrong, which completely undermines the authority of the adults who are charged with, among other things, teaching students to respect authority.

I'm not sure what has brought about this radical change in thinking since I was a kid, some 30 years ago. Motivation was king in those days, and my parents always set goals and incentives for me. It wasn't just about school, either. If I mowed the lawn or washed the family cars there were rewards. If I had a particular number of A's on my report card there was a reward. There was also a strong disincentive if there happened to be a "C" on my report card, and disincentives are every bit as important as incentives.

The primary objective in parenting and teaching is to prepare our young people to survive in the real world, where competition is still very much king and nothing worth having is ever given away for free. Knowing this, who came up with the idea that every child should have a trophy?

The real world simply doesn't work like that.

In the real world, the most committed and qualified applicant gets the job. If they show up late, dress inappropriately, or choose not to show, they get fired. There are no second chances and there is no reward. There is no trophy for second place, and instilling that sense of competition and pride in accomplishments from an early age is supremely important as we look to prepare our kids to be successful adults.

Giving every child a trophy might sound good on the surface, but the truth is that rewarding mediocrity and even failure actually handicaps our the very children we are looking to build up.


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