Teaching the reality that there is only one winner


And the winner is…everyone?

Nothing screams success louder than a shiny trophy, sparkling medal, or a gold embossed certificate beautifully displayed on the living room mantle or on the shelf in a kid’s room. But the real question becomes – are those screams coming from a generation going soft.

Have we gone trophy-crazy as a society, bestowing trophies on children for almost anything, even just showing up? Are we afraid losing will hurt our children, so we make everyone a winner? Or are awards an effective way to raise children’s self-esteem and keep them motivated to do better?

Do we give children too many trophies?

In real life there is just one game winner, one valedictorian and one person gets hired for the job.

It’s what we do now. Everyone gets a trophy. And the parents who clap the loudest are the ones driving the Trophy Culture.

We’re in the No Losers Zone. Everybody’s a winner. Just show up, and you win something. But is that a bad thing? But what’s really causing that? Is it really a participation award or the environment they’re living in? That way more kids can “win.”

They might not be able to compete with children from India or China, but Americans learn all about that much later, when they are “outsourced” on the job.

But at least our kids feel better as kids, and that makes us feel better as parents.

“What’s wrong with a participation trophy for kids?” said one parent. “It makes them happy. They’re just 6 years old. Isn’t it good to be a kid, and happy, playing the game? They’re just kids.”

All kids learn truths about themselves eventually. About the beginning of middle school, they learn the ruthlessness of sport. The skilled and strong and the hungry continue. The others fall away.

There is nothing wrong with this. When humans stop pursuing excellence, we die.

But if a little kid gets a trophy and smiles, eyes gleaming, proud, what’s so wrong with that?

We can reach a balance between this hypersensitive helicopter-parenting Trophy Culture and that real world where failure waits, where parents can’t helicopter over their kids forever.

If children always receive a trophy – regardless of effort or achievement – we’re teaching kids that losing is so terrible that we can never let it happen. This is a destructive message, because how we react to kids’ failure is just as crucial as celebrating their success.

Thus letting kids lose, or not take home the trophy, isn’t about embarrassing children. It’s about teaching them it can take a long time to get good at something, and that’s all right. Kids need to know they don’t have to win every time. It’s O.K. to lose, to make a mistake.

It’s through failure and mistakes that we learn the most. We must focus on process and progress, not results and rewards.

Some claim that constant awards improve children’s self-esteem, and, once kids have high self-esteem, they’ll achieve more. But scientists have tested these claims and found them to be false.

Research has found that the best way to improve kids’ self image is to help them develop their abilities. Once they master a skill, they won’t need manufactured praise to tell them they’ve done well. They’ll know it. And they’ll be thrilled.

Whether your kids get a trophy for participation or not does not determine their attitude toward hard work or earning their way. YOUR attitude toward those things is a far bigger influence than any piece of wood and plastic.

This column is by Ritchie Lucas, Founder of The Student Success Project and Think Factory Marketing. He can be reached at 305-788-4105 or via email at ritchie@thinkfactory.com and on Facebook and You Tube as The Student Success Project.

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