A couple weeks ago as I was listening to local radio station KTTR, the top of the hour arrived and that meant a news update from ABC Radio News. I was surprised at one story, a youth sports league in North Texas, made an astonishing announcement to its member families…that beginning next season, only teams that win will get trophies. In other words, no more trophies for all the players on all of the teams, only the winning teams and their members will be awarded trophies. ( Here is a link about the League’s decision.) Wow! I thought to myself. I wonder how the parents are taking this news? I also thought, good for the sports league to enact this. The costs of trophies for one and all must be large, and what meaning does a trophy for participation have compared to a trophy for winning the championship? Where has American society gone that kids get trophies or certificates for participation?
I decided to try and find out when this great push to boost kids and their self-esteems began. I googled my question and all I found were unending lists of how to boost one’s child, teen, or baby’s self-esteem. No information appeared that was critical of the movement, no material questioning it. I can only surmise that the rise of parents wanting their kids to have super self-esteems stems from how my generation of parents were raised. I was born in 1965, grew up in the 1970’s and early 1980’s. My parents were from the baby boomers generation. This may come off as biased, but I have great parents and they certainly didn’t go out of their way to boost my “self-esteem”. They taught me right from wrong, raised me to grasp a strong christian faith for my own self, and they taught me how to work, to have a strong work ethic. I do think some parents the same age as I, and younger parents in today’s America, grew up with parents caught up in pursuing their own happiness at the expense of their families surviving and thriving. No fault divorce began in California in 1969 and had skyrocketed by the 1980s. Families torn apart by divorce in those decades yielded children that decided that when they were parents, they would make sure that their own children would not know such emotional pain, and hence the almighty efforts in boosting kids’ self-esteems, the mantra of “You can do anything no matter what!”, and possibly the mentality of buying children tons of material goods flowed from this push of boosting self, too.
Currently, in my 5th grade son’s Language Arts curriculum, he is reading the book, Farmer Boy. The book is about the author’s future husband, Almanzo, and a year in his life, from ages 9-10, working with his family on their Mansfield, New York area farm. In reading this book, my son has gotten a glimpse of how hard-working this family was. Sure, there were times for fun such as sledding, going to the town’s 4th of July Celebration and the County Fair, but work and hard work was the order of the day. From the author’s writing, her future husband’s father was a very successful, and well-to-do farmer. His wife, the future mother-in-law of the author, was a whirlwind of activity. There is not much evidence of Almanzo’s parents boosting their 4 kids’ self-esteems, but there is a lot of evidence of these parents teaching their kids how to work, to do a job right, imparting moral lessons and attending church on a weekly basis, how to make and preserve foods, how to make cloth and sew clothes for one’s future family and how to successfully grow crops, harvest them, sell them to buyers from NYC, and how to successfully raise livestock and horses, for sale and for farm work. Several times in the book, the parents do praise their kids’ hard work, but there isn’t lavish praise. Gifts aren’t bought unless it’s Christmas or a birthday. The mantra of children must be seen and not heard was iron-clad, especially at mealtimes or when company was visiting in the parlor. ( America has really dropped that mantra, as evidenced by the behaviors of some kids in today’s restaurants! )
I re-looked at the news article about the Texas Youth Sports League-Keller Youth Association-to read some parents reactions to this decision. A few parents had the opinion that all still need to be rewarded trophies to keep the kids wanting to come back and play for the next season. That opinion was the minority view as the majority of the parents were welcoming of this decision. I too, welcome it. When kids get out in the “real world” of working, do all employees get pay raises or recognition? No! Only the hard-working employees reap the benefits of their labors. I think the children of today would do better if we, the parents wanting them to never have pain in their lives, to never have to face hardships in their childhoods, would realistically step back from that utopian intent, and go back to the basics of parenting kids. Yes, provide food, clothing, shelter, love, but also impart to them a strong work ethic, manners, guide them to a faith in God, and hopefully the next generations can be individuals who won’t whine if they don’t have the latest gadget or don’t get that trophy at the company picnic.