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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Participation Trophies Aren't The Problem Here

Albert Burneko of Deadspin wrote a column in response to former NFL linebacker James Harrison making his kids give up participation trophies because he believed they didn't deserve trophies just for showing up. Burneko goes on to remind people how innocent kids are to begin with and concludes that the real problem is the trophy they give to the kids who win.

He has a point, actually. It's true you don't get a bonus in your paycheck just for showing up to work, but that's because you've reached an age at which point you shouldn't expect that. In Harrison's case, we are talking about kids who were eight and six years old, who are at an age in which the overwhelming majority of them may not like to lose, but get more pleasure in just running around with the ball, smiling and giggling, as adults try to encourage them while reminding them about the rules of the game.

As they get older, those trinkets just don't come for them any longer -- or at least in theory, they do. But if you think about, rewards for just showing up are still a part of life. In high school, they call them participation certificates and year-end banquets. Oh, but wait, they aren't trophies, so they don't count? Actually, they do, because anything presented you just for participating is the same: You stuck it out for the year, so here's your reward!

More to the point, though, is that for every parent who coddles their child too much and tries to protect them from every little thing that might get the child upset, there is a parent who drills the idea of "look out for number one" into a child's mind at such an early age that the child wants nothing to do with anything the parent wants because the child is scared to death of being shamed for not winning.

Whether or not Harrison is one of the latter parents is not for me to judge, but his argument is misdirected. It's not giving out participation awards to six-year-old kids that contributes to our "entitlement" society, but the combination of people who go overboard in protecting a child's self-esteem and the people who pound into a child's head the idea that if you don't win, you're a failure. Both instances lead to kids who don't know how to handle a situation that doesn't go their way.

Nobody likes to lose and nobody likes to be rejected, but it's part of life. But giving participation trophies is not something that causes a child to not learn how to handle the downside of life. People who can't stand to lose, whether because they are too competitive for their own good or too worried about failure, are the problem.

Meanwhile, we need to remember that six-year-olds and eight-year-olds are still learning a lot about life and, while they love to win and don't like to lose just like any other person, they're more concerned about whether or not they had fun. If a parent is more concerned with winning or a child's feelings, the child sure isn't going to have fun.

That's really the "entitlement" Harrison should be concerned about -- the "entitlement" for parents to insist everything go their way.

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