Thursday, December 8, 2011

Accolades ad Nauseum

Several years ago, my most tenured Los Angeles friend was questioned by her daughter, who was probably in the third grade at the time.

“Mom?” her daughter began, “Why don’t you put that sticker on your bumper? The one about my getting A’s in school?”

My friend was quick to respond.

“The car’s a lease,” she said. “I can’t.”

But even if my friend’s car had not been a lease, I know she would have resisted advertising her daughter’s academic achievement. And I don’t blame her. There are way too many accolades and rites of passage for kids these days, and bumper stickers are just the tip of the iceberg.

… I don’t have kids, but I also don’t live under a rock, and so I am aware of how things have developed over the years.

These days, kids seem to graduate from everything. Everything.

And those who participate in sports get trophies and certificates simply because they participated.

While it’s true that winning isn’t everything (after all, as the saying goes, it’s “how you play the game”), I don’t think losers should get trophies. Rather, they should be proud of their efforts, and they should be inspired to do better. They should be inspired so that, next time, maybe they will get a trophy.

… A year before my very first graduation (the one from prep school), I won the Intermediate Division of a horse show. My tangibles? A beautiful small sterling platter and a long, three-tiered ribbon. I was so proud of that win, and I loved holding that shiny platter and streaming ribbon as I rode out of the ring.

I wonder what that same event would look like today? Would everyone get a platter and long ribbon? Would I have no way to distinguish my achievement from that of the others who – on that particular day – simply had not performed as well as I had?

I don’t think I would enjoy that very much.

In fact, I believe it would probably squelch any desire I had to excel.

What’s the point of competition if no one really gets to feel as if they’ve won?

What’s the point of competition if it doesn’t inspire one to do better next time?

… I don’t know about what we’re teaching our kids. I don’t know if it’s a good idea for their little microcosm of society to provide them with tangible rewards for adequate performance. I don’t think a trophy is an appropriate accolade for simply showing up.

Given the current employment situation, the handwriting is on the wall. The adult world is becoming increasingly cut-throat, and it is unlikely that it will become less competitive in the years and decades ahead. Will your son expect that showing up is all he needs to do? Will your daughter expect a bonus simply because her colleague got one?

My Child is an Honor Roll Student at Wilson Middle School, the bumper sticker says.

Cool. And if your child earned that status, even better.

But I don’t think you should invest too much in bragging.

I’m guessing, too, that 20 years from now, you’ll not want to drive around with a bumper sticker that says, My Adult Child is Living in My Basement with All His Trophies.

If that happens, though? If your grown-up kid shows up with such a decal and suggests you put it on the car? Just do what my friend did. Tell him that the car’s a lease.

(And don’t worry if it’s a lie. There’s probably a certificate for that, too!)


Anonymous said...

I do agree with you Katie. When my children were small their primary school banned competitive sports until the age of about seven. Until then, everyone got a badge for participating in what seemed to be a variety of events from throwing bean bags into a bucket to skipping on the spot as many times as you could.
True, those less able at athletics had a chance to join in but I found my children (not all athletic by any means though all were grateful when proper sports day began) were a little bored by the lack of competition and after a time it became a competition to see who could get round the events the fastest.
Equally, the current fad for giving A*s for exams exasperates me. What is an A*? 110 % ? Is that possible? I do wonder, if no one is allowed to fail, how they will ever recognise success?

Martha Mawson said...

You've hit the nail right on the head. Over the last decade or two I have noticed that those a generation or so behind me (not all, but some) have an attitude of "how little can I do and still get paid." It's horrible. Children are molly-coddled and wrapped in cotton wool so that we don't damage their "self-esteem." Here it is in a nutshell - we shouldn't be given self-esteem, we should earn it. End of.

BECKY said...

So true, Katie! I just heard a couple of local radio personalities discussing this very thing. With all things that are PC in our world of today,(and I don't mean your computer!)everything is just nuts. It will probably take another generation or two, to figure out what went wrong, and be able to "fix" it...maybe...

Sioux said...

It all stems back to the fall of dodgeball. When dodgeball was banned from schools, everything else toppled. Unfortunately, life is not going to smile on all of us, even if we do a mediocre job. Dodgeball prepared us for the real world. Sometimes, balls are going to come flying at our heads, and we have to move fast...look alive...and take it as a natural consequence if we get smacked in the face with a large red ball.

elizabethanne said...

Excellent points, Katie! What's next -- a certificate for breathing? ;)

Andrea said...

When I was a teacher, I saw this reward thing on the rise and it was driven entirely by the parents. They wanted their children to win something, anything. Winning supposedly meant an increase in self esteem. How much easier it is to paste a sticker on your bumper than it is to sit down with a kid and talk about why they don't feel like they're as good as the next person, if that is in fact what they're feeling.

Jayne Martin said...

Oh, snap! Girlfriend, you nailed it. I couldn't agree with you more. We didn't have any of that crap when I was growing up. If you didn't win something, you learned to try harder. The country is screwed when this current crop of kids come of age. Oh, wait. We're already screwed, aren't we.

Jules said...

I don't have children either, not sure about the rock yet, but dang girl you got it SO right. Kids today are not made of the same fiber we were. Just yesterday I saw a plastic device for making snowballs, I mean really, have kids forgotten how to make snowballs too? :)
Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow