Ashley Merryman wrote, in the New York Times: “as children return to school this fall and sign up for a new year’s worth of extracurricular activities, parents should keep one question in mind. Whether your kid loves Little League or gymnastics, ask the program organizers this: “Which kids get awards?” If the answer is, “Everybody gets a trophy,” find another program. Trophies were once rare things. Today participation trophies and prizes are almost a given, as children are constantly assured that they are all winners…Po Bronson and I have spent years reporting on the effects of praise and rewards on kids. The science is clear. Awards can be powerful motivators, but nonstop recognition does not inspire children to succeed. Instead it can cause them to underachieve. Carol Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford University, found that kids respond positively to praise; they enjoy hearing that they’re talented, smart and so on. But after such praise of their innate abilities, they collapse at the first experience of difficulty. Demoralized by their failure, they say they’d rather cheat than risk failing again.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/25/opinion/losing-is-good-for-you.html?_r=0)
I have said it for years, if everyone is considered “special” and deserving of a trophy, then nobody is “special.” Special, on it’s face, means that you are different from other people, but in a good way. People who are special have a specific talent, or work harder, or perform better than their peers. People who are “special” deserve to be recognized as that, and not to be grouped in with everyone else. The time of participation trophies and certificates for showing up has ended. Children have come to expect it, and it has created a generation of entitled kids, who think they are special just for doing that which they’re supposed to be doing. When they go in to the real world, nobody gets a trophy for showing up and doing the job which they’re meant to be doing. You have to go above and beyond, and work your butt off for the recognition and praise that you may deserve. Are we teaching the young people of today the wrong thing with this “over-trophying?”
I was raised in this trophy culture; every child in our Sunday Little League received a little gold baseball player that would join the other meaningless awards on my dresser each year. And it was true that ‘trophies for all’ dulled our motivations to give the game our best efforts. Indiscriminate rewards taught us to quit when we were frustrated. Instead of learning the art of perseverance, we gave up as soon as we were tired. We needed to learn to take the option of quitting off the table. Real pleasure and self-esteem come from genuine challenge, and we need to get back to that mentality or we’re going to create a culture where quitting or cheating is accepted so that people, who have been told all their life that they are special and given recognition for being average, can continue to get recognized for unspectacular work.
Let’s examine this “underachieving” that students have become so fond of lately. Does knowing you’re going to get an award anyway make you work harder than everyone else? To me, the answer is no. If I knew I was going to get an award/trophy/certificate/prize for doing just as well as everyone else, I would not be motivated to work hard. In fact, I might be motivated to work less, seeing as I would still be recognized for “showing up” anyway.
Awards are given out for everything and to everyone, these days. It has been estimated that the manufacture of trophies and awards has become a US$3 billion per year business. Some sports organizations budget as much as 30% of their money to buying trophies and awards each year. Manufacturers have seen a market, and they have filled the niche. It’s good economics, and I’m sure anyone who works for a company that manufactures these things will tell you that everyone deserves a trophy simply for showing up!
Bruce Tulgan wrote a book entitled Not Everyone Gets a Trophy about employing these people of the “trophy generation,” often referred to as “Generation Y.” He explains in the book that it’s not easy to get these people to work hard and to go above their normal reach, but it is doable. Taking them out of the mindset that simply showing up and doing mediocre work will get you praise and recognition is the first step. Rewarding hard work and effort is what needs to be done. The people who don’t put in the effort and don’t work hard, don’t get any praise and recognition. I’m sure this is difficult for the trophy-hounds to deal with at first, but they learn. The new generation of entitled trophy-winners are even worse. They are getting awards for pulling C and D grades in school and for sitting quietly in class, not disrupting the teacher. Excuse me, but when I was a student, you had to work hard for recognition, and just sitting there not giving the teacher any issues was not enough to make you “special.” But, in this world where nobody is “special,” because everyone is told they are, we will have to deal with this when they join the work force and bring the economies down even more. This is where the Asian countries have us beat. They only award trophies and recognition to those students who achieve the absolute highest grades or have a special talent that they work to foment. They create good, old fashioned competition. And the competition is fierce! No wonder they’re going to take over the world!