Every generation of Americans have shared a common general objective….to provide more secure and more fulfilling lives for our children. The natural tendency is to want our children and grandchildren to have it better than we did. We want them to have maximum exposure to everything that we deem to be positive: material things, security, happiness, positive self-image, etc.. Generation after generation, from a broad perspective, this objective has been met. However, that generational objective has become increasingly difficult to attain. For middle-class America the emphasis has undergone a shift over the last decade or so. Parents still work to ensure that their children enjoy all the material aspects of childhood, but, the provision of “things” has reached saturation. The focus is now on the child’s self-image and emotional comfort. A noble aspiration, but, in typical American fashion we have gone to an extreme.
In our effort to promote self-confidence and to ward off any undesirable emotional conflict within our children we have started down the slippery slope of rewarding mediocrity.
Every Child a Winner- The Participant Trophy
The proverbial Participant trophy. While attending a youth league (ages 11 -12) baseball tournament a few years ago I witnessed a couple of parents going ballistic at the end of one of the games. The coaches of a couple of the teams had presented awards to a few of the outstanding contributors on their respective teams. The parents were irate because their sons had not received an award. Oh’ the injustice of that! How would their precious, fragile, child ever overcome not being given an award that he did not earn? The parents seemed oblivious to the possibility that not being given an award might motivate their boys to try harder. They wanted their children to receive an award. Period. Regardless of the implications.
The above example is just a microcosm of this malaise and it is not restricted to sports. You see and hear evidence of it in all types of competitive environments. Rewarding mediocrity has become the norm. Mere participation and a mediocre output are now deserving of overt positive recognition.
Rewarding Mediocrity, Long-Term Implications
I sometimes wonder about the two boys from that youth baseball game. They would be ~ 16 years old now. What lessons have they learned? Have they been thoroughly inoculated with the notion that it is good enough to just show up? Are they convinced that mediocrity is, and will always be, good enough? Are they among the masses of students in our schools today that are lagging so far behind the rest of the world? Do they suffer from the debilitating sense of entitlement that is so rampant among our youth? What about the condition of their self-images that their parents tried so hard to coddle? Did that coddling create self-confidence or merely result in laziness and indifference? Do they have the remotest idea of what awaits them in their future adult lives?
As the generational cycle turns these children will one day be the backbone of this nation. Maybe, on average, they will be able to shake off the mediocrity malaise and strive for excellence. But then again….maybe not. Hopefully, they will have at least learned that a positive self-image is never achieved via the path of low expectations. We can also hope that they will not be afraid to demand occasional excellence from their own children. I hope they will take the gloves back off………
Maybe they will return the Participant trophy to its rightful place…….potato sack races at the lame company picnic!