We Are Handing Out Trophies And Awards Like Skittles, And It's Out Of Control

by Joelle Wisler
RichVintage / iStock

I love my kids, and I really think they are the most amazing things that ever walked on this planet, but

I do not think that they should get a trophy for simply showing up to soccer practice on the right day.

I don’t think medals should automatically be given to kids when they just happen to do something that is age-appropriate — like here’s a ribbon for being 5 years old. And here’s one because you played in the orchestra you actually have to play in. Here’s one for not failing the fourth grade. Way to go.

I once went to an award ceremony where my kid got a certificate saying that the teacher saw him being nice to a friend, like, on one occasion, she saw my child being nice. Is that the standard we are holding our kids to now? That our kids expect their parents will be emailed, and they will be recognized in front of an entire auditorium for simple human kindness? No wonder my son gives me side-eye when I ask him to clean his room — he’s much more important than all that. He got an award for being nice to a friend once.

Why set these kind of expectations? Normal grown-up life is not really conducive to getting that many awards. I’d rather get a pile of money than an award, myself. Nice plaque and all, but could you maybe slip in a hundred bucks too? Or a coupon to Target? And I certainly don’t get an award every time I clean the toilet or survive the grocery store with two kids, although I kinda think I should. I should definitely get something for the whole dinner thing, but all I get are the tears of regret. No trophies to be found.

And I might be in the minority here, but I also don’t think that my kids need to have a graduation ceremony for every tiny milestone they pass. I don’t remember graduating from preschool, kindergarten, fifth grade, junior high, and then high school. Why do we need to do this to ourselves? Do we need an excuse to get together and eat cookies and talk about how great we think our kids are? Because I would much rather just do that and skip the three-hour ceremony, the pomp and circumstance, where I’m silently pleading with my daughter to stop picking her nose in front of one hundred people. Doesn’t she know we can all see her?

Stuff is just expected now. My kids expect stickers at every store they go to, they expect awards at every event they are a part of, and they expect to be congratulated and praised for every appropriate human interaction — and why? Well, because that is the precedent that has been set. The stickers end up getting slapped on my butt because they think they’re hilarious, and all the medals and ribbons and trophies? Discarded in the toy bin — collecting dust and annoying me even more. Because after awhile, the awards don’t mean anything. Nothing. Or if they do mean something, it’s five minutes of ooh, look at this shiny new thing and then it clutters the shit out of my house because they aren’t sure why they even received it to begin with.

Yes, our kids do have unique talents, and there are times when they’ve really worked hard and when receiving an award is hard-earned and worthy of celebration. A recognition of actual work, time, and effort. I don’t think that it’s all frivolous — I just think it’s all too much. In an effort to make everyone feel important, the value of the award ends up being lost.

Let’s just teach them to be kind human beings. To not expect that they are going to be recognized for just showing up to do what they’re supposed to do. That’s placing an extrinsic value on something that should be intrinsically motivated. You don’t do what you’re supposed to do for the recognition. You do it because you like to do it, or it’s fun, or that’s just what you’re supposed to do because you’re a decent human being.

And save those awards for when they’ve actually done something important, like the Nobel Prize or something. And at least that one comes with a million bucks.