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!)