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Participation Trophies vs the Real World

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Participation Trophies vs the Real World

When I was growing up, I remember that we had winners and losers. The Olympics awarded gold, silver and bronze metals to the winners, and everyone else did not win; they were the losers. School sports and professional sports always had a winner and a loser. Once your team lost enough games, you were simply eliminated and no longer advanced in the competition. There were no consolation games or prizes. When you lost, you knew you lost, and you might get upset or angry, but you accepted it and you moved on.

These days, however, it seems that there is a need for everyone to be a winner or to feel that they are somehow special and worthy of excessive praise and admiration. My concern, however, is that by repeatedly hearing how amazing you are and by being constantly rewarded for every effort, that it is taking a toll on your self esteem and overall well-being. I believe that treating you this way is turning many of you into lazy, entitled teens, and later adults, who cannot function in the real world.

Do you really like being rewarded for mediocrity or worse? What value does a collection of meaningless plastic and aluminum trophies hold for you? I have yet to meet a teenager who values these things. I have seen and heard of countless teens who reach a certain age and just throw all of that meaningless stuff away. But remember how proud you were when you actually earned and won a trophy or reward?

The constant, unearned rewards become meaningless, and it is destroying the motivation and incentive to work harder. Have you ever lost or been told you weren’t good at something? And then passionately work really hard to get better? This virtue is essentially non-existent today, but so very important. Teenagers tend to believe they are so special, mostly because you’ve been told it so many times that you believe it. But it’s simply not true.

Yes, you deserve to be loved and praised for your efforts and accomplishments. But you also deserve to know that you are no more or less special than anyone else, that what will really help you to stand out is hard work and dedication. You also deserve to learn what it is like to fail, to lose, to not succeed.

Nobody is good at everything. You don’t need a participation trophy for everything you do. Perhaps a small pin or paper certificate would be more appropriate. Instead of the losers playing each other in that consolation game, how about the losers go home? How about you realize that it was a good effort, but this time it just wasn’t enough. Think about what you did well and what you could do to improve next time. Learn the ability to cope with and handle the disappointment and turn it into passion and motivation. This is where self-esteem grows, and this is an important life skill.

The real world can be a tough place. It’s important for you to be prepared to navigate it and succeed, and adults must do a better job. It’s okay for you to know there are some things you are good at and some things you aren’t good at. This is normal. You can focus on the things you are good at, and work hard and also learn to compensate for your weaknesses.

It is important that you understand the importance of working hard at school or at a job. This is how you get ahead, not just because you want something therefore you are entitled to it. In the real world, you don’t get something for nothing. Sometimes, even when you try really hard, you will fail. You should know this and experience this many times before adulthood. Otherwise, you will lack the experience or tools for handling life’s problems, of which there are likely to be many.

If you’re really tired of being treated like a fragile glass doll and think all of these trophies are ridiculous, you can make your voice heard. Speak up at the school and speak up to the soccer club. Speak up to the officials of a contest or anywhere else that you see this participation trophy and constellation game/prize happening. Discuss the ways that this might actually be hurting you.

When enough people speak up, then and only then will things start to change. You’re going to be an adult one day. Your boss won’t really believe that you are as special as your parents or your coach thinks you are. Bosses know that employees are dispensable and can be easily replaced with others who work harder and have a better attitude. Nobody likes to hire entitled, spoiled brats, so please don’t become one.

Lori Freson Lori Freson is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Southern California. She has been working in the mental health field since 1997, and has been a licensed therapist since 2002. Lori currently works in her own thriving private practice in Encino and Sherman Oaks, where she serves the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles areas.
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