Whose idea was it to give every child a trophy?

I remember the days when only the best of us got trophies. In junior high, swimming well was rewarded, as was skiing fast. Skill was appreciated. Nowadays, however, it is common to give a kid a trophy regardless of how they have performed. This is common in sports, music, and even in academic subjects.

While it is a good idea to encourage the kids’ self-esteem and make them feel accepted as they are, is it not good to give the winners any additional gratification? Society today seems to say no. One could argue that it has become almost a taboo to “judge the children according to their performance”. The postmodern parental thesis seems to be: “a child has inner value as herself and this inner core should be encouraged, not the outer shell of performances.” While part of this is arguably true, is this behavior not giving the children false hope concerning their abilities? Maybe an averagely gifted child honestly thinks she is good at singing and plans a career in the opera, because she has heard multitude of encouraging words by peers and grown-ups around her. Maybe the child even thinks she already is a great singer and needs not to push herself further.

The interesting part, in my opinion, is to determine whose needs this system serves. Is giving every child a trophy good for the kids or for the parents? It may very well be in the best interest of the children to have parents profiling themselves as supportive and encouraging. However, giving every child a trophy also serves to make the parents’ duty more pleasant. After all, who wants to have  a crying kid at home on a saturday night, sad about losing a contest? A parent may be tired after a long work week and just wants the kid to behave pleasantly.  Furthermore, a parent may feel good about their own parenting when they have provided the child with a positive feeling of achievement. Doing so, the parents may want to encourage false hopes today, at the expense of a future letdown. This is an example of instant vs. delayed gratification.

Also, the parents often have a huge peer pressure around them. Who would want to tell their kid that she is not good at sports when everybody around them boosts their kids’ egoes. It is easier for the parents to conform than to stick out.

One could take a step further and argue that these two principles, that of instant gratification and peer pressure, are core factors in our postmodern consumerist society. Is it not these two principles that have led the children’s parents into economic doom? Buying things on the credit card, favouring the immediate satisfaction of buying new shoes over that of saving for the future? Keeping up successful appearances, keeping up with the Jones’?

It will be interesting to see the future of the  “trophy generation” will form. It will take some decades before these children are in the leading positions of society. Who will then get the praises and raises in workplaces?  How will this generation raise its own children? Furthermore, it has been suggested that the financial crisis will make people live more modestly. Will the financial crisis challenge the “trophy behavior”?


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