As a grandparent, a parent, and a former educator, there is something that needs to be addressed before it gets any more out of hand than it is already. This being the fact that our children who participate in activities that reward with a trophy or blue ribbon, etc. really earn it or is it given out to everyone and therefore means nothing.
Somehow we got off the track of this simple idea. Recently during sporting activities that were televised, there was a commercial where a father and his son were walking from the child's game to the car and the dad looked at the trophy which up close said, "Participant." The child asked his dad if he had won. His dad got a sharpie and quickly wrote 1st place. Then he handed the trophy back to his son and said to his son that yes, he did.
The dad's heart was in the right place in that he wanted his child to feel good about himself. What is wrong with this picture is that we are giving children the impression that they will win at everything they do. In the cold, cruel world, we as adults know this is not true. To quote L. R. Knost, "It is not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It is our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless. How do we do this?
Not too very long after this commercial was televised, a very well known father was at his daughter's school track event. She too, was given a "Participant" trophy. The father walked back with her to the place where the trophies were distributed and said to her that he wanted her to give that trophy back. He explained his thinking was that of course, she participated. A trophy should be given with respect to those who won. She did not win this time. I applaud this dad. And to make this story even better, his daughter did go out and pushed harder so that in another event, she did win the trophy and felt very proud of herself.
In my opinion, we have to stop giving the awards for things they did not accomplish. Let them know that it is not the end of the world if they did not come out on top. There is honor in giving it your best shot, yet someone else did just a bit better this time around.
With the Olympics on TV currently, now is the perfect opportunity to teach this lesson. There are three medals given for each event. These athletes have trained for years to get to this level. Yet, all of them can't win the gold, silver or bronze medals. Only three will be rewarded in the end for each event. The other athletes gave it their all. Teach children that there is no shame, as long as you did your best. Also, teach them that there will be other opportunities to try again. Work on different strategies to try to earn that trophy.
Another place that I have seen this kind of behavior is at school, especially elementary, award ceremonies for grades. Usually, this award is called the Principal's List for all A's. Now, let's be real. We all can't make straight A's. Very few can do this each and every marking period. So only a few children will be going around the school with a special pin on and get to walk across the stage for their ribbon or trophy. They should be rewarded, just as by high school there are a few students who are inducted into the Honor Society and in college, a few students who make the Dean's List.
And the others? They have something to strive for and if in reality that is not possible, they can, with the help of their parents push to continue to do the best that they can. In the long run, no employer is going to check out report cards for all A's or some B's or C's thrown in here and there. What they are going to look for is someone who will give it their all in whatever task they are working on for the company.
The fact that so many parents want little Johnny or Suzie to come home with something more than a participant award, even when it was not earned is setting up their own child for a cold and cruel world when they get to the workplace. Instead, let's show them that we all have our strengths and by working together we can make the world a little less cruel and heartless. Teamwork!