Saturday, June 15, 2024

Millennials unharmed from trophies

How could something as flimsy as a participation trophy lead to not only the altering of a child’s view of the world, but also the supposed bad character traits that are perceived in millennials?

Growing up, most of us chucked those things the first opportunity we had. Even as children, we understood their implication.

A participation trophy doesn’t say to a child, “You won. Good job.” It says, “You participated.”

We weren’t the first generation to receive them, and we won’t be the last. People’s condemnation of these benign symbols likely stems from the lack of sufficient acknowledgement for their own accomplishments and hardships. The mentality of “If I didn’t get a trophy, then they shouldn’t either” spawns from envy and creates nothing but frustration.

If this is a war on how we millennials were raised, why’s the target on our heads? Aren’t our parents to blame for our supposed flaw? Or, is the issue with millennials’ approval of these trophies? If so, it’s worth noting that individuals between 18 and 24 years of age only narrowly believe kids should receive participation trophies. It’s essentially split.

The awarding of trophies to everyone, not just winners, is increasingly disapproved of by older and higher wage earning individuals, according to a 2014 poll conducted by the Reason Foundation, an American libertarian think tank who also publishes Reason magazine.

So, because older individuals mostly detest this practice and millennials are undecided, we get the title of “the trophy generation.” Makes sense.

The only question stemming from this debate that’s worth serious deliberation is what measurable psychological effects could come from this kind of reinforcement?

A study by Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck observed how children are affected by praise. Dweck and her colleagues gave some 400 fifth-graders an easy IQ test. After taking the test, some of the kids were praised for their intelligence by being told, “Wow, that’s a really good score. You must be smart,” while the others were praised for their effort and were told, “Wow, that’s a really good score. You must have worked hard.”

When the kids were asked to take another test and given the choice between an easier version that they would “surely do well on,” or one that was “more difficult but presented an opportunity to learn,” 67 percent of the kids praised for their intelligence chose the easier test, while 92 percent of those praised for their effort chose the more difficult one.

In an interview with NPR, Dweck said that kids shouldn’t receive awards for simply participating. However, she believes a child shouldn’t have to be the best player on the field to get a trophy, but it should reward something, like improvement or team spirit.

Kenneth Barish, a clinical associate professor of psychology at Weill Cornell Medical College, has a different view. He told NPR he “sees no harm in adults encouraging participation with a trophy and that he’s found no evidence the practice leads to entitlement among kids.”

Jorge Perez, the vice president of youth development and social responsibility for the YMCA, agrees with the giving of participation trophy awards because they help “anchor the experience and act as an important marker, to say: ‘I did this. I finished this.’” He also argues that for some kids, “It may be all they get.”

Should children be rewarded for doing nothing? Probably not. But, is participating considered nothing? No.

The idea isn’t to trick anyone into thinking they’ve won and came in first — it’s to give a pat on the back and a breath of encouragement.

Email Steve Levy at

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