Not all trophies are created equal. Yet, we’ve sold today’s youth lies. We’ve told them showing up is good enough. We’ve convinced them that “everybody wins.” We’ve led them to believe that, in life, everybody gets a trophy. Now our society is reaping what we’ve sown.
Helicopter Parents Created the Trophy Generation
When I think about parents over-protecting their children the same image always comes to mind. If you’ve seen the movie Little Giants, this may ring a bell.
In the movie, there is a boy who is generally smaller than his peers. He seems scrawny and prone to sickness. His mother is always there looking out for him. So, when he shows up to his first football practice, he waddles up to the other boys. He’s wrapped in a a layer of thick foam taped around his whole body.
Concern is one thing. But this mom was, not unlike many parents I’ve encountered, over the top.
This tendency to be over-protective is what has spurred today’s “trophy generation.”
3 Off-Target Intentions of Trophy Generation Parents
Why trophies? How did we get here? What are the ramifications?
Believe it or not, our society’s trophy generation was born from good intentions. It is right and good to want to shield kids from pain, suffering, and discomfort. Parents love their kids – as they should.
However, that same well-intentioned love has clouded parents’ judgement and interfered with their ability to do what’s best for their kids. Short-term comfort, relief, and sense of confidence comes with a cost.
Allow me to share with you 3 intentions parents of the trophy generation have. Each has an unintended consequence that is leaving today’s youth ill-equipped for their futures.
1. Intention: Protect Kids from Failure
When Johnny isn’t passing English his dad goes to bat for him with the teacher. When Susie isn’t getting playing time, mom goes to bat for her with the coach. When the team doesn’t win, the coach tells them they are winners in life (as if the sport didn’t matter anyway).
Parents don’t want to see their kids disappointed. In catching them every time they fall, they’re protecting them from failure, from the consequences of their mistakes. This way kids can learn from them without the harsh penalties that come with it…or so parents think.
Unintended Consequence: Limits kids’ opportunities to learn from failure and be a good sport. They don’t learn to cope with failure, to use it to improve. They don’t learn to be a gracious loser when an opponent or job candidate is simply better. They don’t learn resilience.
2. Intention: Boost Self-Esteem.
Parents want their children to feel good about themselves, self-assured. We want kids to have belief in themselves and their abilities to succeed.
Shielding them from the pain of failure, embarrassment from poor grades, or the possibility of not making the team is supposed to preserve their self-esteem. Inflating their egos with how special, talented, and smart they are aims to build up their confidence.
Unintended Consequence: Kids develop a hollow sense of confidence and self-assurance. A great example of this are the poor aspiring artists you see in the early rounds of American Idol. They think they’re the next Carrie Underwood or Clay Aiken. When the judges kick them off stage in horror, they’re shocked in disbelief. They’ve only heard how gifted they are. Clearly the judges must be mistaken.
3. Intention: Teach Fairness.
In today’s “everybody wins” culture, parents aim to teach their kids that life is more than winning. Which it is. Parents want their kids to respect others and value effort. We want our kids to participate without their experiences being soured by losing.
Unintended Consequence: “Everyone is a winner” dilutes the value of achievement. Kids aren’t stupid. They know the difference between a trophy earned and a pity trophy. Tim Elmore, author of Generation iY, highlights that denying the realities of competition robs kids of motivation.
Elmore writes, “The less accomplished kids have little reason to strive to be better, and the more talented kids can have little motivation to improve.” So, both settle for the status quo. That doesn’t sound good for the future.
No More Free Trophies
Despite our best intentions, we’re leaving today’s youth ill-equipped for the future. In our attempts to protect them, we’ve robbed them of opportunities to learn valuable life lessons.
Whether you’re a coach or a sport parent, avoid these unintended consequences. Help today’s youth prepare for tomorrow by teaching them to value their strengths, develop sustaining confidence, and cope with failures. These are the tools that will serve them beyond sports in their everyday lives.
Question: What additional side effects do you see from our good intentions with the “trophy generation?”
- Book: Generation iY by Tim Elmore