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The medals in the above picture all belong to my ten-year-old daughter. Did she earn them for winning a soccer tournament? No. Did the team receive them for having an undefeated season? No. For the last 6 years, my daughter has been given these medals for “participating” in the sport.

Since she began sports and other competitions, I have been struggling to understand this new way of rewarding children. Why should a child want to put in the extra effort when they are treated and awarded no differently than the child who practiced at home and then scored multiple goals because of their effort? Trophies, awards and promotions should be EARNED, correct?

Somewhere along the road of athletic and academic competition, we as a society became fixated with making everything equal. We don’t want anyone to be left out or upset that they didn’t win.  It appears that it’s better to acknowledge showing up rather than rewarding excellence.

On the field, in the classroom, and at home, many children are constantly assured that they are winners.  Are we (parents, coaches, educators) creating the “Entitled American”? The person who believes that they should receive a trophy, a prize, a day off, government assistance, or a raise because they “deserve” it, because they “showed up.”

Jean Twenge, author of “Generation Me,” has studied recent increases in narcissism and entitlement among college students. In a New York Times article, she warns that while living rooms are filled with participation trophies, parents and coaches are sending a message that to succeed, you just have to show up.  In college, she says that those who’ve grown up receiving endless awards do the required work, but don’t see the need to do it well. In the office, she says they still believe that attendance is all it takes to get a promotion.

I know that not every child and college student is a narcissist.  It all goes back to how you raise your children. Society can tell them that they deserve to win and are perfect, but it’s the parents job to teach them that they are not and that they will fail.

One athlete and parent is doing just that. The past summer, Steelers linebacker, James Harrison made his sons return their trophies. He came home to learn that they received the prizes for participating. The NFL player said that while he was proud of his boys for everything they do, he wanted them to return the trophies because they did not EARN them.  He told the media that he’s not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best. He is teaching them that sometimes your best is not enough, and that should drive you to want to do better. Good for him!

I’ll be the first to postively reinforce my daughters for doing their best. But, in the end, there are winners and there are losers.  You can work your hardest, try your best and do everything possible to win the game or secure the new client, but sometimes things just don’t work out. It’s called life. We need to teach our children that everything is not perfect and they are not entitled to everything. They are NOT elite.

I would love to know what you think about this topic. Do you think that we are creating entitled adults? Should we go back to old school and give trophies and awards to only those who excel? Share your thoughts!