There was a storm of sorts in the NFL/parenting world this week when the Pittsburgh Steelers’ James Harrison returned trophies his two sons had received for participation.
There was uproar on both sides of the fence: parents speaking out against him for doing it, and parents speaking out against the parents speaking out against him. I know, right?
In the world I grew up in, we received trophies, badges, and a myriad of other accolades for accomplishing something or for being the best at something. My accomplices and I were respectful (mostly…we did eventually turn 13, after all) of the police, our parents, and afraid of punishment in general, and that fear kept the majority of us out of prison and shaped us into law-abiding adults with a healthy sense of hard-won accomplishment.
Today’s standard of handing out the same accolades to our kids for little to no effort at all is not doing our children, or our future society, any favors.
I understand the intentions that introduced the concept of giving everyone a trophy, but when did we get into the business of keeping kids sense of self elevated at the cost of learning life lessons?
I recently read somewhere that telling a child “Good job!” for completing a small, simple task teaches them they can get a reward for little effort. The article went on to say that we should be telling them, upon successful completion of said task “Wow, you tried really hard at that!”
I cannot believe how ridiculous this is getting. So, let me see if I have this straight:
Reward children for everything, always, so little Johnny doesn’t get sad for not winning, but don’t tell him he did a good job because then he’ll realize he can get rewarded for minimal effort.
Society spends so much time making sure kids feel included and valued and good about themselves-none of which is bad-that we are forgetting the lessons that come out of feeling excluded (compassion for others), devalued (learning to find our own value within ourselves) and feeling bad about ourselves (fighting back against impossible standards).
What about letting them lose, letting them feel the loss by not receiving a reward for losing, and THEN telling them it was a good effort, but working hard next time will get better results??
And (this is even way further off the charts) rewarding kids who worked hard and accomplished something, so that they feel their efforts pay off, thus teaching them that hard work gets the winning result they desire?
Of course we want our children to feel wonderful all the time, but the reality is that they will lose, they will feel devalued, and they will feel bad. There is no amount of hovering as a parent that will stop that, and believe me, no would want to more than me. The world is not an easy place to live in, and raising our kids with an aggrandized sense of self is not the way to make it better.
If we take away the chances to feel and experience failures, we are robbing our children of the experience and wisdom that will come from overcoming them.
I want my daughter’s childhood to prepare her for all the downs of life too, not just the ups. Losing a game and not getting any points is not going to ruin her, it will teach her that trying harder next time will get her closer to her goals.
Look around the world right now. We as a society are raising kids without respect for authority and hard work, and with a sense of entitlement because of the life lessons we are taking away.
Do I want my kid to feel bad? No. Do I want her to learn to be a better person for it if she does feel bad? YES.
Do I want everyone to feel wonderful all the time? Yes. Is that reality? NO.
There are a lot of sports analogies here, but the ratio of effort and reward applies to everything. The rewards should go to those who know what it is like to lose, to have to work hard, and to rise from the ashes of those things to be successful.
I can guarantee you not one single athlete in all of the world was awarded a million-dollar contract for participating.