Recently I attended the monthly assembly at my children’s elementary school. After the entertaining musical numbers and delightful acting skits concluded, the principal presented the anticipated student awards ceremony. As hard as I tried not to be cynical, I couldn’t help but silently wonder how many of the awards were warranted. It seems in our culture, we’ve adopted the need to reward our children constantly. When there’s not a valid reason, we make one up. I’ve heard teachers exclaim that they needed to come up with a creatively named award to ensure each student receives one throughout the year.
The majority of these awards are called P.O.P.S. awards, an acronym for the Power Of Positive Students. Last month, the boy who bullied my son was a recipient. My same son was a lucky recipient this month. I congratulated him and shared his joy. After all, perhaps he’s one of the few who was in fact worthy of his P.O.P.S. award for ‘Academic Excellence’ – granted he did get all A’s on his latest report card, improved from last marking period – but maybe he received it because he is the child of the parent who, the previous month, questioned why the admitted actions of a bully were rewarded one week later.
In addition to the overabundant awards at school are the extrinsically motivating prize boxes that most teachers keep in their classroom, basically used to temporarily bribe students into proper behavior and academic compliance.
The extreme awarding free-for-all is not only found in schools, it’s prevalent in sports as well.
Every year my kids receive a trophy at the end of baseball and soccer seasons to add to their collection. There are “game balls” too, awarded to a player at the end of each game, naming that player MVP. Both are a given. No need to excel.
Why is it common practice to reward mediocrity? Rewards should be reserved for those who have gone above and beyond, not handed out willy-nilly. When awards are bestowed on everyone, it not only devalues that recognition rendering the honor less meaningful, it also undermines ambition to do your best.
While we, as parents, may get a kick out of watching the triumphant expression on our child’s face, and experience a bit of (false) pride and euphoria ourselves, we need to act responsibly, as should any adult entrusted with childrearing (such as educators and coaches). We ought to cultivate self-confidence rather than overconfidence, yet our actions promote the latter. Furthermore, we are promoting entitlement, laziness, and narcissism. No person is good at everything. No kid needs an award or prize for everything they do. When they grow up, they will expect the accolades to continue, for simply doing what is expected of them.
Kids have to learn to lose graciously as well as win humbly. They should be taught to cheer on each other, not feel superior. When your child whines that s/he didn’t receive an award or game ball, there is nothing wrong with explaining the teacher or coach saw something in the other child which stood out – and teach your child to set a personal goal and strive to that challenge. In the long run, it’ll make them a better student or player and, in turn, a better person.
Similarly, are those all-too-common bumper stickers declaring: I am the proud parent of an honor roll student at XYZ School. I have six children, all of whom have been on the honor roll and high honor roll, more often than not. Even though I am tremendously proud of each of them, I have never felt the need to attach this achievement on any of my vehicles as validation or proof.
I do not begrudge children due acclaim. I enjoy seeing someone receive well-deserved recognition. I am concerned about a generation of people being narcissistic, unwilling to work hard, having no intrinsic motivation, never reaching individual potential, and being thin-skinned thus prone to depression when endless praise ceases to exist into college, military or adult life.
This is all part of the excessive coddling phenomenon that parents tend to exhibit lately, which segues into my next article. [LINK: http://nextooze.com/article/parents-who-coddle-their-kids-do-more-harm-than-good]