Participation Trophies

A paradigm shift happened when the Generation Xer’s became parents. Instead of the parental treatment of previous generations, Generation Xer’s rejected the cold harsh way their parents raised them and sought a kindlier and gentler mode of upbringing. Why did this shift happen? It definitely didn’t arise out of a vacuum. What could have led up to such a dynamic change of parenting styles for both education and sports?

  If anyone were to study the history of philosophy, they could easily see that philosophical trends happen in waves. Philosophical waves crash unto the shore, leaving behind its imprint and impressions on the sand and beaches. Not too long afterwards, another philosophical wave hits the shore, wiping out the impressions of the previous wave and leaving behind impressions and an impact of its own. This cycle happens in perpetuity. The Socrates/Plato philosophy was the first wave to crash the shore that had lasting impact. Plato’s most famous student, Aristotle, rejected most of what Socrates/Plato said and caused a mighty wave of his own, wiping out a lot of the impressions of the previous Socratic wave. The Aristotelian wave was kept alive during the Dark Ages by a few Arabic philosophers but really came to flourish after St. Thomas Aquinas. This sustained wave ushered in the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. However, soon after the Modern age of philosophy was ushered in, another wave was building to wipe the Aristotelian impressions away led by the likes of Hegel, Immanuel Kant and, later, Karl Marx. Each wave rejecting the previous philosophical wave.

 The generation prior to the Baby Boomers and the Boomers themselves lived through a culture whose ethos necessitated a certain way of life. Living during World War I, the birth of Communism, The Great Depression, the rise of Fascism in Europe and, finally, culminating in World War II, caused a winner-take-all, hard-nosed, authoritarian way of taking on life. This ethos was necessary just to survive such tumultuous times. With that influence came a certain way of raising their children and certain way of playing sports. This philosophical wave lasted until the late 1960’s when the counter-culture and sexual revolution rejected the previous way of looking at life.

  Generation X comes along and thoroughly rejects influences imprinted by the Baby Boomer generation and its predecessor. These parents wanted an easier time for their children, especially in sports. Thus, the Participation Trophy culture sprang into life. Where kids would be rewarded, not based on the final outcome of the games or the season, but just for showing up and participating. The purpose, through the parent’s eyes, was to be “fairer” to everyone who played. But they failed to ask themselves, fairer to whom? Was it fair to the to the athlete that really strived to do better, to improve his skills, that, in the end, would be treated exactly the same as the child that didn’t care and looked at the clovers in right filed or, through mere boredom, looked skyward? These parents did not foresee the effect of their cause: a generation of kids with a sense of entitlement.

  In his 2008 article, The Trophy Kids Grow Up: How the Millennial Generation is Shaking Up the Workplace, Ron Alsop wrote, “If there is one overriding perception of the millennial generation, it’s that these young people have a great-and sometimes outlandish – expectations…’They want to be CEO tomorrow,’ is a common refrain from corporate recruiters. More than 85% of hiring managers and human resource executives said they feel that millennials have a stronger sense of entitlement than older workers, according to a survey by CareerBuilder.com.”

  Ashley Merryman, co-author of Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing wrote, “If you tell a kid they’re wonderful and they believe you, then it just confirms their belief and that’s not about healthy self-esteem, that’s about narcissism.” She also wrote a New York Times op-ed entitled, Losing is Good for You, where she addressed another concern about participation trophies, that they don’t give kids room to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes. “It’s fine to say, ‘You didn’t go to all of the games. You didn’t practice soccer. The other kid worked really hard and did really well and he deserves a trophy and you should go over and congratulate him.’ That a hard lesson, but an important lesson. So, I would rather have kids realize that they can make mistakes and move on then have them find out the first time in their lives, when they are in their teens and 20’s, that not everyone is going to give them a trophy.”

 Ultimately, the question becomes who is the participation trophies actually for, the parent’s feelings or the child’s? Other than keeping the trophy businesses thriving, participation trophies do more harm than good. It boils down to a question most Generation X parents don’t ask themselves, ignore or simply just don’t care, is giving a reward or trophy to someone who doesn’t deserve it justice? The answer to that is, most emphatically, NO! To Generation X parents, their own feelings matter more than justice.

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