"My son got a trophy just for showing up and it made his year."

Ask me a year ago what I thought of participation trophies and I would have rolled my eyes. I would have scoffed and tutted and told you how ridiculous they were.

I would have used words like “entitled” and “marshmallow generation” and told you how in life there were “winners and losers”. How kids needed to learn. How it was “destroying our youth’.

Blah Blah Blah.

I even wrote about it, how surprised I was when my eldest son started school and kept coming home with ribbons.

Ribbons just for turning up.

"Ask me a year ago what I thought of participation trophies and I would have rolled my eyes." Image via iStock.

He didn’t actually earn them and didn’t really appreciate them when he got them. He cruised through kindergarten, doing well, making friends, and coming home with all sorts of bits of paper and ribbons rewarding him for his easy ability to sail through.

I thought this everyone gets a ribbon culture was going to be the ruin of us.

And then, two years later my second son started school.

At first I assumed he would feel the same as his older brother (and me) about the school system of awarding certificates. I assumed he would see it as meaningless. I assumed he wouldn’t really care when he saw that eventually everyone got one.

I assumed wrong.

My second child isn’t quite the same as his older brother, not as confident, not as sure of himself, a little more anxious, a little more self conscious.

He struggled a little with his literacy, he struggled a little making friends. For him to start school was trickier, not quite the easy ride it was for his older brother.

Then he noticed these glossy blue certificates the others kids started taking home. Their names read out in a weekly assembly and their contribution acknowledged. He wondered why he hadn't one too.

"He knew there were no awards for coming first, but he didn’t care – he just wanted one too." Image via iStock.

He then joined a soccer team, this kid who still clung to his mother’s legs at school drop off heard that at the end of the season there was a ribbon on offer.

He knew that everyone would receive one when they had tried their hardest, he knew “everyone was a winner,” that there were no awards for coming first, but he didn’t care – he just wanted one too.

He knew what he had to do was commit. Try hard, give it a shot.  He had to let go of my legs and get out there and kick that ball.

According to Jean M. Twenge, author of The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement, the "everyone is a winner" mentality is damaging for our children. She says it does not build true self-esteem; instead, it "builds this empty sense of 'I'm just fantastic, not because I did anything, but just because I'm here.' "

Michael Carr-Gregg, one of Australia’s most well-known Adolescent and Child Psychologists coined the term “The Marshmallow Generation” in response to this growing culture telling News Limited it was harming kids by not allowing them to deal with disappointment or associate effort with outcome.

“Where is the incentive to achieve and get better when you take away the ability to win and lose, you are taking away the capacity to develop resilience and the ability to overcome, face and be strengthened by adversity,” he said.

“I think we run the risk of raising a ‘marshmallow’ generation and doing them no favours — we are condemning them to an adulthood characterised by anxiety and fear.

“No one gets a 'participation degree' at uni — you have to put your head down and earn it.”


Watch this debate on the "everyone gets a ribbon culture". Post continues after video.

Video via ABC Action News

But Tom Farrey, executive director of The Sports and Society Program at the Aspen Institute and author of Game On: The All-American Race to Make Champions of Our Children doesn’t agree saying participation trophies remind young kids that they are part of something, and may help build enthusiasm to return for another season.

Hilary Levey Friedman, a sociologist and author of Playing to Win: Raising Children in a Competitive Culture told Today that the thing with these trophies is they only really “hold sway” over the youngest kids "Think about the ages that kids still believe in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy, as a rule of thumb, that is the age when a gold [participation] trophy seems to be quite magical as well."

“No one gets a 'participation degree' at uni — you have to put your head down and earn it.” Image via iStock.

In her research among kids who were involved in highly competitive activities, Friedman found that "as kids get older [participation trophies] lose their meaning... But that first participation trophy, it does mean something, especially among the younger kids. The children see them more as symbols and remembrances of an experience."

The day my son finally brought home that prized piece of paper changed him - and changed my attitude towards the awards.

His back got a little straighter, his voice a little clearer, his smile a little wider.

He wasn’t the best or the brightest. He wasn’t the smartest or the strongest.

But he had showed up, he had tried his hardest, he had committed and to him he had won.

What do you think of the everyone gets a ribbon culture?

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