Participation Trophies, Writing, and Procrastinating

The root of all evil resides in your child’s bedroom; maybe yours too, depending on your hobbies. It nestles on shelves and dressers, watching silently as your child comes and goes, comes and goes. Light slickens its sides and gives off a plastic glimmer reminding you of the worthlessness of all the trophies now cluttering your house. Yes, according to many (including Megan McArdle, author of “Why Writers are the Worst Procrastinators), trophies are responsible for recent generations’ lack of self-direction and tendency towards procrastination.

In actuality, constant praise is not what limits our children, but rather constant structure. It used to be kids only went to school and work. At school they experienced structure, but at work they learned self-direction that profited them after they left the education system. Today, students go to school, participate in sports, volunteer with organized groups, and overall have their day planned for them from dawn to well after dusk. They lack the freedom of free time and the self-exploration that accompanies it. Constant praise is not the problem, the problem is that children are always coming and going, never free to find themselves in independent activities.

If recognizing everyone as a success was the cause of procrastination and lack of self-direction, then Megan McArdle’s opening argument in her Atlantic article would prove incorrect: She argues writers are particularly susceptible to procrastination because of their easy successes in English classes. However, participation trophies make everyone a “success,” yet not everyone procrastinates to the same extent. She is right to conclude that never facing failure makes for a spoiled learner, but in low stakes activities like little league and recreational soccer, a prize for everyone is not the end of the world. Giving everyone a trophy may even have a positive impact: if everyone receives a prize for various levels of success, then a child needs to determine their own self-worth. Instead of being told with a piece of plastic they are a success, they must look to their own level of effort for validation.

Rewarding every child is not the problem: Setting their schedule from an early age to make them appear well rounded for the sake of higher education is. Do your child a favor and let them decide for themselves the activities they want to participate in. Encourage self-direction and increase their work ethic for their future.

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