Monday, February 4, 2013

Why trophies are STUPID: 10 Better Ways to a Healthy Self Esteem



This is the top of my son's bookcase. With so many awards & trophies, you'd think he is a pillar of athletic prowess and skill. To be fair, he is a very good athlete, but he "earned" most of them by the sheer fact that mom signed him up for a sport and she paid the registration fee on time.

Usually at the end of each season, someone comes up and asks for even more money to buy trophies.  I counted 25 trophies - averaging somewhere between $8-15 a piece.  That means, sitting up on the bookshelf there is somewhere between $200-$375 worth of dust collectors. 

 Money well-spent? I'm not so sure.

I was reading an article in Psychology Today by Matthew D. Lieberman, Ph. D., that discusses the "Everyone Gets a Trophy" movement.  He traces the movement back to the 80's where studies found that higher self-esteem lead to higher grades, lower teen pregnancy and decreased drug use.  Parents, teachers, and government officials started propagating the idea that children should be praised and rewarded as much as possible to raise self-esteems. Accomplishment was not important and merit based rewards were even discouraged because they might damage tender self-esteems.

I was planning on running a marathon, but applying this logic, I don't need to actually train or run the marathon to get that sense of accomplishment.  I need just pay a registration fee and buy a "26.2" sticker for my car. 



Lieberman made an astute analogy between a child's self esteem and car's gas tank.  A child fuels his self esteem by being loved and working hard. Trying to artificially raise self esteem is as effective as breaking open your dashboard and manually moving the needle to reveal a full tank of gas. 

Falsely praising a kid will only make him feel like a fraud. We all want our kids to have healthy self-esteems, but they get this by working hard and accomplishing stuff. To me it seems:

Earning Stuff = Higher Self Esteem

Simply Getting Stuff = More Stuff (plus the added bonus of a sense of entitlement!)



A kid doesn't need to be the valedictorian or a star athlete to have healthy self esteem. I set 40 goals to achieve by my 40th birthday and even the silly goals added all sorts of fuel to my tank.  Instead of feeling old, frumpy, and unaccomplished, those goals helped me feel downright fabulous about turning 40.  

I don't have any fancy degrees in child psychology, but I have been a member of the human race for the past 40 year and here's what I've learned:

1.Our job as parents is to love them unconditionally (and make sure they know it). 

2. Teachers, coaches, scout and school leaders are there to assist us in raising our kids-not the other way around. We should not blame them for our kid's problems. They need to hear the phrase "How can I help" a lot more and "Why aren't you..." a lot less. Step up or shut up.

3. We need to make them do hard stuff and allow them to fail. 

4. We need to teach them to accept personal responsibility for the failure, to stop blaming others and encourage them to try and try again until they succeed. 

5. We need to be their cheerleaders when they are putting in their best effort and not be afraid to call them on it when they are not. (We will not be telling them anything they don't already know.)  Studies show that kids that believe they are merely "smart" tend to give up easier when faced with difficult tasks.  Kids that are praised for working hard, believe that they have the necessary skills to complete difficult tasks and are more successful.

6.  We need to provide opportunities that they can serve others.  It will help them to temporarily forget themselves and doing good always makes you feel good.

7.  We need to teach them the difference between right and wrong.  Some will argue that morale absolutes don't exist, but doing bad stuff simply makes you feel bad about yourself.

8. Expect greatness from your kids.  Guess what the number one factor  in a child's academic success is? Parental Expectations. Don't believe me, read all about it here.

9. Be specific when your praise your child.  

10. We need to encourage kids to try lots of new things, until they find those areas that they are passionate about and where they will find true success, not just another dust collector.



One day I will be brave enough to print out a copy of this post and hand it to the next person collecting money for trophies, but until then I guess I will just rant quietly here on my blog.


26 comments:

  1. Well done! I feel your pain and totally agree with you.

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  2. Excellent post, Tara! -Marci @ Stone Cottage Adventures

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  3. Yes, whole-heartedly agree! Question about #4 though-- How do you teach them to stop blaming others? We are going through the whole 'accept personal responsibility' thing right now, and it may be age related (6), but I still want to conquer that hurdle because I can't stand it!

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    1. We struggle with that one around here too-I'm 40 and still hate to accept responsibility for my failures. I try and not be the parent that blames the refs, teachers, coaches etc. (At least in front of the kids). "What could YOU do differently next time" is always a good conversation to have with them. I also won't tolerate the phrase "He/ She made me..." (although they keep trying to use it). I hope if I just keep repeating those phrases along with a healthy dose of "Life's not Fair" for 18 years, they will grow up to be responsible adults.

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  4. So so so so agree! I love your quip in the comments about "life's not fair" too. My often heard, "Well, life isn't fair, so get used to it"...but I at this point I can't honestly that either of them is a very responsible adult. However, they know they don't deserve a trophy for every little thing they do.

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  5. As a teacher, I appreciate this post. I have parents (not all, this is the minority) who will not let their kids fail and if they do, it is the teacher's fault. Parents often do the homework for their kids and when the kid fails the test, who gets blamed? The teacher.

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    1. I used to be a teacher. When a kid was struggling, I get 3 responses from parents: 1. nothing 2. Rants on why I was terrible teacher 3. Honest inquiries about what they could do to help. I don't need to tell you, but while #2 might have made the parents feel better, #3 was the only helpful response.

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  6. Well said...this blog post comes at the most perfect time! We just boxed up the dusty trophies collected over the last 14 years by our 18 yr old son...when we asked what he wanted to do with them, he casually said, "whatever"...as you said about $4-500 worth of trophies tossed aside for a new chapter in one's life!
    I always felt that awards should be earned rather than just given for "showing up"...Maybe in the next generation!
    My castle doors are always open for browsing over at the "royal blog". Tiffany

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    1. We can dream, right. I'm afraid it might be worse. Cute blog and super fun blog name:)

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  7. Hi Tara. I really enjoy reading your blog. I emphasized with this post and decided to share. I guess because I finally dumped all my old trophies off at Goodwill when I moved a year ago - hah!
    Anyway, teacher here as well. Reading this post reminded me of an article I read for my teacher preparation program. Don't know if you've already read this - if you have, sorry! - but I think you might enjoy. It's a lot of this similar stuff.
    Hope you're doing well!
    http://nymag.com/news/features/27840/

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    1. That was an amazing article-thanks so much for sharing it. The idea of being specific with praise always made sense to me, but I didn't realize the effects were so dramatic. I'm going to add another point on my list.

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  8. Oh dear... that's a lot of trophees. Better melt them down and sell them ;-) I also don't think that a child gets better selfesteem from trophies, or worse yet.. it shouldn't depend on trophies. The thing is, children (as we all know) aren't stupid and even though they all get a trophee they can still figure out they weren't the fastest/highest jumper etc. So who are we kidding, seriously?? Giving a child selfesteem depends on SO many things: house situation, marriage of the parents, friends, bullying at school etc... no trophee is going to weigh up against all those. So, are you going to start a new movement 'chuck the trophees'?? ;-)
    Esther.

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    1. If they were only made of something valuable-but sadly they are all plastic:)

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  9. I really enjoyed reading this post. I couldn't agree more. It's nice to know that there are others who feel like our children need to learn to work hard for things. My son is only 18 months old, but I have said from the very beginning that he needs to learn what it is like to work hard for things and not just be handed everything.

    If it were me I would totally hand this out to the person collecting trophy money :)

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    1. It will be before you know it and I double-dog-dare you:)

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  10. I had to smile at the contradiction between your blog name and "I hate trophies!" line :)
    I had no idea you have to pay for the trophies you earned...can they just give out the printed paper saying "You are the #1"?? Anyway, thank you for this post!

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  11. This totally gave me a new appreciation for my parents.. I played soccer all through elementary school and I was AWFUL (I don't have an athletic bone in my body so I was always running behind everyone.. but in my defense, I did make ONE goal during my 5 year career) but I'd always get a small, dinky trophy that I was incredibly proud of. I never thought until now about how much those cost my parents.. Oh well, what goes around comes around and I'm sure my future kids will have two left feet like their mamma and I'll have to smile through gritted teeth while I pay for their trophies..

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  12. Thanks for you thoughts, and I agree....I don't think I have ever purchased a trophy for any of my kids. the only Trophies they got were when they actually won the event.. I guess that is what comes from living in a rural community...which I am greatly appreciative of. And actually, Many of their trophies are for academics....like math team...
    I would, However, like to be a TROPHY Wife....any suggestions on THAT?????
    LOL
    Betsy

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  13. For some reason right now I'm using wrestling as my analogy for everything :)

    Anyway, my boys started wrestling last season and it was the first time they had received a trophy for an accomplishment rather than just being present. They failed, they worked harder, they ate healthy when other kids were eating french fries to stay on weight, they sweated, they failed some more, they did more pushups, went to more practices, then they finally won.

    An honest to goodness victory earned through blood, sweat, and tears. You know what happened...the trophy didn't mean as much by then. They knew they had accomplished something good. They went home and packed up all those dumb soccer trophies, and participation medals and got back to work to improve even more.

    I can't stand the trophy-for-being-present phenomenon we have today. There was a scene about this in the Billy Crystal movie "Parental Guidance" and I almost stood up and clapped in the theater!

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  14. Love this. As adults I am dealing with my husband and my trophies. What to do with them? I am pretty sure that the thrift store can't do anything with them (maybe I should think up a good craft). I hope one day I can be as good at your 10 as my parents were. I know that they taught us whether you were on the court or on the bench you support your teammates.

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  15. Ah, LOVE this!! I teach Kindergarten and I can relate with so much of it. Great advice! Thanks so much for sharing :)

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