You’re sitting at your child’s championship soccer game. It’s a Saturday afternoon, clear skies with a high of 72 degrees, a perfect day to cheer on your child as they play to win the championship trophy. As you’re watching the game, however, you notice that no one is keeping score. You consider bringing this to someone’s attention but then hold back, figuring you would find out who wins by the end of the game. When the time runs out and the game ends, you get excited because you know that your child’s team has scored more points than the other team. But much to your surprise, they proceed to call all of the kids back onto the field and hand every single kid a small plastic trophy. 

The scene that has just been described to you is one that seems to be happening all too often. There’s a stigma going around that children are more sensitive now than they used to be years ago. Therefore, adults are trying to create a world where everyone succeeds at something and no one feels like a failure. This world is one where every child is a winner and receives recognition for merely participating in an activity. Whether those activities are sports, STEM, music, theatre, art, or any of the other numerous activities kids participate in to find out what they like best, kids typically receive a trophy or certificate at the end of their participation. This is given to the child mainly to persuade them to keep participating in the activity while also boosting their self-confidence and making them feel good about themselves. While giving these kids a new sense of confidence is a positive thing, the psychological effects that come from giving children rewards just for participating can be detrimental. It’s better to give children recognition when they have earned it so that they truly understand what it means to succeed.

We all love receiving awards. There’s no better feeling than hearing someone call your name and then walking towards the presenter who then hands you a big trophy or an official-looking certificate. However, kids today are being presented with awards not for excelling, but just participating in activities. Take the soccer game for instance. One team scored more goals than the other team, making them the rightful winners of the championship. But the adults in charge feared that the other team would be devastated by the loss and couldn’t bear to see the other kids upset. Thus, the system where everyone gets a trophy was born. Of course, it’s nice that every kid feels recognized for their efforts, but what’s going to happen to those kids later in life when that system ceases to exist?. What’s going to happen when all of a sudden, someone beats them in something and they no longer get an award for their participation? Those kids will most likely receive a harsh wake-up call telling them that they won’t necessarily get rewarded for everything they do in life and some of them might not be able to handle that harsh truth and react negatively. Our society is raising kids to believe that, as long as they try, they are always going to find success. If adults really want to prepare their kids for the real world, they need to teach them that life is not always going to give you a trophy for your participation.

Not only does the participation award impact the kids who didn’t really win, it equally impacts the kids who did win as well. Imagine being one of those kids on the winning soccer team. You’ve been keeping score the whole time and you know your team won. At the end of the game, you’re really excited to receive your trophy. You’ve been looking forward to it the whole game and now the time has come. The presenters call up your team and they hand you the small plastic trophy. At first you’re really excited, but then you look over and see them handing the losing team the same trophies that your team got. You understandably feel hurt and upset because your team earned those trophies and now the other team is getting the same reward as you even though they lost. It takes away all of the excitement and makes your win feel special. It gives you less of an incentive to try to win next time and every other time after. By implementing the “everyone’s a winner” system, society is raising people who don’t try for anything because they know they’ll be rewarded either way. We need to give these kids an incentive to try to excel, because if everyone wins, is anyone truly a winner?

There are a lot of incentives to try new activities. In some cases, you get to learn a new skill that you would never have picked up if you didn’t participate in the activity. In some cases, activities can force you to become more physically active and teach you to become self-disciplined. One of the greatest benefits of participating in a new activity is getting to meet new people who share your interests and possibly make new friends. However, some people don’t think this way. Some parents sign their kids up for activities hoping that their child will get a participation award at the end of it to boost their self-confidence. This isn’t necessarily a bad way to think, afterall as a parent it’s nice to see your children being recognized for their work. However, this shouldn’t be the sole reason why their child is participating in the activity. A kid should participate in activities that they genuinely enjoy, even if they don’t receive an award at the end. By staying in an activity they don’t like just to get rewarded at the end, kids are learning that if they don’t like doing something, they should just stick it out until they are rewarded for it. If this is the case, they won’t put in 100% of their effort into what they’re doing and they’ll never find success, making participating in the activity a huge waste of time. If your child finds themselves only participating in something to receive an award at the end, save both them and yourself the wasted time and find an activity they actually enjoy. 

Opinions against the use of participation awards may sound harsh and cruel. Afterall, it’s not realistic to expect a child as young as four or five years old to understand the fact that they can’t win at everything all the time. But by continuing to give children awards for their participation, we are giving them false ideas of what the real world is like. Kids need to learn that they’re not going to succeed all the time, and that’s okay. They need to learn to accept the loss and move on. If we teach them this at a young age, they’ll be better prepared to handle not winning all the time as they get older. This is how we will raise a society of men and women who give their best effort, but also understand that not everyone’s a winner.

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