“Trophy kids” is a common term used to describe millennials, raised in a time where participation awards and accolades were doled out frequently, often without merit or any due reason. Every parent believes their child is special, but should educators, sports coaches and other events award every child regardless of whether or not they’ve performed well?
Although it may seem like the best way to bolster self-esteem, baseless praise and compliments may actually do more harm than good for children in the long run.
What Trophies Mean
A trophy is a means of celebrating an achievement. If your child’s soccer team wins a match, then they receive a trophy. If a child wins a spelling bee, then they are awarded a prize. These are tangible acknowledgements of a child’s success in a particular setting.
The real problem with trophies is not their existence but what children may learn to see them as – physical proof that they aren’t just good at something but that they are good enough, period.
Participation trophies in sporting events and other extracurriculars seem like a great way to make everyone feel included and go home happy. But what if doing so robs children of the important emotions and experiences they need to develop well-rounded self-esteem?
It’s not feasible to feel good all the time. One of the most crucial elements of healthy self-esteem in adults is emotional resilience, that is, the ability to accept, express and recover from uncomfortable emotions or painful experiences.
Participation trophies create a false sense of confidence and lead to underdeveloped self-esteem.
Pros of Trophies
Children who do receive participation trophies can feel like they are still valuable to a team even when things don’t end in their favor. Trophies also soften the blow of a loss, helping children maintain enthusiasm and still feel excited about participating again later. They’re more likely to turn up and try again.
Cons of Trophies
While keeping morale high and protecting children from emotional pain is understandable, it is not the best route to developing good character or self-esteem. Participation trophies shield children from smaller failures that ultimately help the develop the ability to cope with grief, pain and disappointment later in life.
Participation trophies ultimately favor outcome over effort, and they can instill children with a sense of entitlement that leads to less productivity and greater suffering as they get older.
Every parent and coach will have their own views on the matter, but it’s important to make sure your child does not believe the world is built on hand-outs alone. There are other ways to foster a sense of self-worth, and celebrating a child’s effort and showing that you love them even when they fail is far more valuable than giving them a trophy for doing the bare minimum.