Sunday, March 15, 2015

Please Stop Giving My Kids Trophies

When my oldest was still a preschooler, we lived in Ohio near a great rec center that offered a ton of classes for free. Since she needed the practice being in social situations and I needed to get out of the house, we were there regularly for everything from ballet to pottery.

One day while we were killing time in the lobby before karate class, I noticed a flyer taped to one of the pillars advertising a local tee-ball league. Your registration fee of $40, the flyer informed me, covered the cost of a uniform T-shirt and a trophy at the end of the season.

I read the flyer a second time, puzzled at how you could buy a trophy.

If only I'd known then what I know now.

That was my first introduction to the 21st century parenting mantra: everyone gets a trophy. Since then, I'm dismayed to say that I've bought many trophies, medals, and ribbons for my children.

You participated in school field day?

You were on the soccer team?

Came in last in the spelling bee? Have an award!

They've been flung at my children for every organized event they managed to show up to since they were tiny. And all those years, I've felt extremely conflicted about it.

My kids don't even know what a trophy is. They think it's just what you get on the last gymnastics class of the session. They treat their Happy Meal toys with more reverence than all the medals they've won, probably because they're honestly harder to come by in my kids' eyes.

Please Stop Giving My Kids Trophies -- What's wrong with handing out ribbons or medals to everyone who participates? Plenty.  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}
photo credit

About 6 years after the tee-ball flyer incident, we decided to sign up one of our boys for his very first race. I'd personally rather spend 20 minutes staring directly at the sun than running for the pure enjoyment of it, but Phillip's into running and it's one of his "daddy" activities with the kids.

We found a nearby race with a kids' Fun Run, which we assumed meant 1 mile. On the day of the race, we found that the "Fun Run" was actually the silliest little 50-yard dash I'd ever seen (serves me right for not reading the fine print) and at the end every child was handed a shiny medal.

I was furious, and not just because we'd spent weeks training and psyching our son up for a race that was shorter than the distance from our front door to our mailbox.

Plastering on a big smile, I asked at the finish line, "So how was your very first race?"

His answer, as he brandished the medal at me, was exactly what I dreaded it would be: "It wasn't hard at all, Mom, and look what I got!"

And you know what? He was right. If he'd walked the entire course, or even if he'd laid down and taken a nap in the middle instead of finishing, he still would've gotten a medal.

But I'd wanted it to be hard. I wanted him to sweat and get tired and almost give up but persevere and be proud of himself for doing his best  with or without a medal. Meaningless awards can't replace actual achievement.

Kids aren't so dumb. You can't fool them into having higher self-esteem with a trophy. I cringe when my kids get awards they haven't worked hard to earn.

I hear that sentiment echoed a lot. This subject comes up often when moms get together, and I've never heard one good word about the now-standard practice of giving trophies just for participating.

Everyone shakes their head and agrees that it's terrible how medals and ribbons were once signs of great achievements and now they're just given out like Tic-Tacs.

So if everyone feels that way, then how did we get to this point? And why are we still doing it? Surely someone could say something.

And then I realize: I haven't said anything, either.

So this year I just might be the mom asking the head of the local youth soccer league not to give out participatory trophies on the last day of the season, but I don't have very high hopes. For a trend that no one likes, I have a feeling it'll be a hard one to eliminate.

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Anonymous said...

THANK YOU for this post. I applaud you! I think this system of trophies is sickening. No wonder everyone in this country thinks that things will be handed out...because they ARE!

Unknown said...

I LOVE this! I think I was growing up during the very beginning of this phenomenon, and it has grown completely out of control since then. The everyone-gets-a-trophy mentality breeds apathy, and I'll have to fight it if I want my future kids to know the value of hard work, practice, and persistence (which I do!). Thanks for sharing this!

Crystal Green said...

I have written a post almost exactly like this one. It irritated me to pieces when my sons got a trophy just for being on a "losing" soccer team! I believe that kids should earn their trophies and awards for doing a job well done. I'm glad to know I'm not alone in this train of thought. Thank you for voicing your opinion for the world to hear too.

Anonymous said...

Everyone is so fearful of kids feeling bad about losing. I believe that losing is a good thing sometimes. It encourages you to work harder. Being able to work through a loss builds character. My kids actually resent the trophy that they get for doing nothing because they know they didn't earn it!

Jenny Evans said...

That's why I rarely let my kids win at games (although they do beat me on their own plenty!)

Pauline Torgersen said...


Anonymous said...

I do so agree. I'm all for encouraging children and giving them opportunities to achieve and be recognised, but I find the whole idea of giving a trophy to everyone abhorrent - and I don't use that word lightly. The same goes for non-competitive sports days. I do understand why some choose to go down this route, but to me it's really important to teach kids that the real world is a competitive place in which not everyone can win, and actually that's okay. Plus, it teaches them valuable lessons about how to cope with both winning and losing, just as they will have to do when they grow up.

Unknown said...

I completely agree and with Tim too. Nobody learns a blooming thing about life if prizes are given out to everyone - and what if someone did something amazing and everyone else who did nothing was being awarded the same prize too? It's just wrong, wrong, wrong - all power to you for ask them to stop it!! :-) Thanks for linking up #thetruthabout X

Lux G. said...

Thanks for pointing this out. We really need to start teaching them the essence of true reward while they're still young. Good point!

teacuptoria said...

What a great point you're making. At our school they have stopped doing a competitive sports day now and just 'played' games, it was ridiculous! Sportsmanship and good honest competitiveness are important skills for children to learn and you're right they should be earned not devalued by giving everyone a trophy. You go girl! x

Sinea said...

Well said! BRAVO!!!! How will any accomplishment be really special if they are a dime a dozen!

mothers shadow said...

I featured this on my fb page and I do agree whole-heartedly. I believe this is one of the elements that is a factor in the entitled attitude so prevalent today. Thank you for the this insightful post. Carrie, A Mother's Shadow

Unknown said...

Thank you for this post. I'm so glad I'm not the only one that shares the same sentiment about participatory trophies. It's actions like this one that leaves kids feeling entitled, like somehow they can get everything handed to them without any hard work. But even if it is the norm, I'll try my hardest to raise my daughter the same way you're raising your children: work hard and get what you want; not just do nothing and get what you want. I'm just hoping it sticks through and through

Queen Mom Jen said...

I read an article about raising narcissistic children in the Washington Post last week. The whole every kid gets a trophy contributes to creating a narcissistic child. I kind of felt like I had been alone in this whole thought process and I am glad to find out I am not. I will be right there with you asking the head of the t-ball league the same thing.

Let's Talk Mommy said...

In my personal opinion I think that's crazy. We need to teach our children to lose and win both ways and hope to cope when things don't go their way because life isn't fluffy and in the real world there will not be a trophy for everyone. We are making the next generation soft I think. Great post. Thanks for linking up to Share With Me #sharewithme

Jenny Evans said...

We definitely do! It's hard to even play birthday party games that have winners anymore because of hurt feelings! I think it's important to teach kids that when you're out, you're just out. You don't need a prize, you just sit and wait until the next round and then you can play again!

Rachel said...

I would absolutely support this. My Mom has always said, "Pretending that your kid accomplished something when they didn't isn't what gives self-esteem, ACTUALLY ACCOMPLISHING something awesome is what gives self esteem." My husband has running medals from his high school and college days. Running may not be much of a real-world accomplishment (in my non-athlete opinion), but I think it'll be cool for him to tell our kids someday about how long he's held the 1-mile record at his high school (it's held for 12 years so far). I'm a very competitive person myself, my whole family is, and I sure recognize the fun of winning--but winning loses the 'fun' when you win no matter what. I take no pride in having a cosmetology license because in the state where I'm from, it's completely possible to have a cosmetology license and have no idea how to cut hair--because of the way the entire cosmetology licensing system is designed. It's not worth being proud of, in my opinion.

Rhonda Gales said...

Stopping by from Turn It Up Tuesday. My daughter was involved in various activities when she was in school and now I'm watching my grandson with football and basketball. From my experience, trophies are now given to everyone because parents complained that all children show receive "something" for participating. I guess we need to be careful what we ask for! Great post.

Anonymous said...

You asked, "how did this all get started?" It got started because people voiced their opinions loudly and over and over. So to undo this, you need to do the same thing. Kids today want something for everything they do, but if parents expect the same, they just perpetuate the problem.

Jenny said...

It is super annoying that they all get trophies. My daughter got a medal for going to tumbling and not paying attention the whole time. And while it was cute to see her get all excited for getting something (she's 3, anything she gets is exciting right now) it was a little more annoying because I want her to learn to work for it and to have a goal in mind.

Jenny Evans said...

I struggle with this. How do I react when my kids get medals for nothing? When they're young they get excited because hey, they got something. I don't want to squelch their enthusiasm, but I don't want to fake it, either.

Anonymous said...

I just saw this post and it made me think of a story from my younger days. I had a friend back home who was very good at shooting skeet -- so good that he won numerous trophies shooting competitively. I'm in my 50's and they didn't give out trophies back then unless you actually won something. He continued shooting well into adulthood and was nationally ranked.

So, fast forward. My friend got married late and had kids. His youngest daughter decided she wanted to shoot too. He happily taught her how and one day she was old enough to compete in a junior division. At her first competition, she totally whiffed it. Didn't hit a single pigeon. My friend was taking notes about her technique, etc., thinking they'd discuss it and use the experience to improve for the next competition...until, at the end, she got a participation trophy.

On the way home she was very pleased: "Look, dad, I got a trophy like yours!" He said later "How do I explain to her that her trophy is not like mine? That I actually won mine and she was just given hers? How do I tell her that without sounding like I'm criticizing and tearing her down?"

How indeed.

Jenny Evans said...

That's exactly why I don't like participation trophies. You hit the nail right on the head.