Wednesday, April 9, 2008

You Lose...Here's Your Trophy!

When was the last time you received accolades and a promotion for missing your goals at work? I'm not talking about successful failures that are rewarded at some companies...I mean you really messed up. Probably didn't happen for you, did it?

Why then are we handing out trophies to our children for doing nothing more than showing up? Their shelves are littered with trophies and medals for participating in soccer, t-ball, little league; you name the sport they dish out a trophy for losing at it. Proponents of awarding children merely for attendance suggest it is important to provide positive reinforcement for children regardless of their success on the field. I certainly agree, but handing out a cheap trophy or a medal is not the only means of positive reinforcement. These items will be thrown away in a few years, along with any supposed meaning they had.

What ever happened to, "Nice job, son, I'm proud of you for going out there and not giving up."
How many psychiatrists offices are visited each day by people pondering the abundance of hollow metal dust collectors contrasted by the lack of parental pride? How many tears are shed and angry words exchanged because fathers never told their children they were proud of them? Instead we substitute being a parent with loading up our kids with more stuff.

Furthermore, why are we afraid to teach our children that they will not always be the winner? We convince ourselves it's easier on their feelings when we fail to declare a winner and, consequently, a loser, but when do we teach them they have to work harder if they want to win? The greatest injustice is that we are failing to teach our children they have to buckle down and put forth more effort if they want to get the trophy. Why should they work harder to be winners when they have been taught in their formative years that working harder doesn't mean anything - everyone gets the same trophy? They need to understand that rewards are commensurate with effort and, even so, there are bad days when you lose in spite of your hard work.

Self esteem is not learned by trivializing one's efforts and equating mediocrity with superior performance. In fact, rewarding the winners and losers equally only serves to encourage mediocrity and gives no one anything of which to be proud. Self esteem comes from trying hard, losing with honor, and coming back inspired to work harder - not giving up. We cannot be afraid to teach our children because we're concerned about hurting their feelings. Watching someone else walk away with the trophy stinks, but there is no honor in false praise.

This phenomenon is not isolated to the playing fields. In our public schools children's spelling errors are not corrected because it might hamper their creativity or discourage them. Of course, this near-sighted protectionism only serves to dissuade them later in life when they struggle with reading and writing because they never learned how to spell properly. Furthermore, in Washington state the high school proficiency exams are waived for a year if too many students fail to meet the graduation requirements. Instead of holding students to a standard we remove the standard and let them graduate without the necessary skills to genuinely earn a high school diploma. We wouldn't want to hurt their feelings by making them accountable.

When will we learn that competition is healthy? When will we no longer be afraid of honesty? When will we step up and start being parents to our children? The psychological case studies promising better results with false praise are continuing and the benefits of false success touted for young children are revealed as detriments for those same children in adulthood.

Do your children a great service and teach them how to lose with dignity, compete with tenacity, and win with grace.


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