August 17, 2015
Life isn't always fair.
You can work your hardest, try your best, expend every ounce of energy you have and sometimes things just don't work out the way you hoped or imagined. That's just the way things go.
Yet somewhere along the way, someone had the misguided notion that kids should live in a la-la land where everything is perfect, there are no hardships or heartbreaks, and you get a shiny trophy or a pretty blue ribbon just for being you.
There's time enough to get acquainted with reality, the thinking goes.In the meantime, children should be praised and encouraged, reminded at every turn how wonderful they are.
No wonder study after study has shown that millennials, the first of the trophy generations, are stressed out and depressed. They were sold a bill of goods when they were kids, and discovering that the harsh realities of life apply to them, too, had to have been like a punch to the gut.
"While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do and will encourage them till the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they EARN a real trophy," Harrison said in a post on Instagram. "I'm sorry I'm not sorry for believing that everything in life should be earned and I'm not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best."
Everybody-gets-a-trophy proponents say children should be rewarded for their efforts, that the prizes give kids incentive to always try their best and persevere. But isn't that what the orange slices and cookies are for? By handing out trophies and medals at every turn, it actually sends the opposite message, essentially telling kids it's enough just to show up.
Why should a kid strive to improve or put in the extra effort when he or she is treated no differently than the kid who sits in the outfield picking dandelions? Or, as NFL MVP
Kurt Warner said on Twitter on Monday, "They don't let kids pass classes 4 just showing up!"
"The whole idea is to protect that kid and, ultimately, it’s a huge disservice. What kids need is skill-building. Help them do what they’re doing and do it better," said Ashley Merryman, co-author of Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing.
"The benefit of competition isn’t actually winning. The benefit is improving," Merryman added. "When you're constantly giving a kid a trophy for everything they’re doing, you're saying, 'I don’t care about improvement. I don't care that you're learning from your mistakes. All we expect is that you’re always a winner.' "
And if you've taken a peak at any 9-year-old's room recently, you'll see how much those precious trophies and ribbons really mean. Most are either coated in dust or buried in the back of a closet.
If we're honest with ourselves, the trophies, ribbons and medals we hand out so willingly are more about us than the children getting them. It's affirmation that our kids are as wonderful as we think they are. It's also a way to fool ourselves into thinking that we're sheltering them, at least temporarily, from the cold, cruel world.
But real life is hard, and no amount of trophies can shield kids from the disappointments and challenges they'll eventually face.
"I like kids. I want them to be happy and do well," said Merryman, who has mentored Olympic athletes. "But I'd much rather have a 6-year-old cry because he didn’t get a medal than have a 26-year-old lose it because they realized they weren’t as special as they thought they were."
Learning the true values of hard work, perseverance and resilience, that's the real reward. All other trophies pale in comparison.