I recently threw a birthday party for my daughter. The shindig was held at a local park, because I’m cheap becoming a firm believer in the old-fashioned birthday party that doesn’t involve commercial characters, venues or entertainment or cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
In other words? I’m no longer keeping up with the Joneses or even trying.
No, this party was going to be a total throwback to my own youth where play and games were the primary staples of party entertainment and thus, I planned an assortment of activities including musical chairs, sack races and a hula hoop contest. For the winners of the games, I bought some small, fun prizes, in addition to the parting gift that everyone would receive.
So, games ensued and of course, there were winners — winners who would get prizes for their efforts because winning multiple elimination rounds in a sack race on a hot day? Is no easy feat and certainly deserves some recognition. Right?
So when it was time to hand out the prizes to said winners, I was suddenly besieged by ten little girls all clamoring to reach into my prize bag, “I want a prize! I want a prize!”
I tried to calmly and gently explain that everyone would be going home with a goody that was equally as desirable as the game prizes; that nobody would be leaving empty-handed.
Well, that explanation wasn’t good enough. I actually saw tears beginning to well up in one girl’s eyes and seeing as crying is usually contagious among young girls, I made the only decision I could and gave prizes to everyone because, let’s face it, a bunch of crying children at a party is a major buzzkill.
Unfortunately, this left no more prizes for the other games and rather ironically, prizeless games are not a huge draw. The crowd of girls dispersed to go play instead.
Later that day, while reflecting on whether I made a mistake in planning games with prizes, it occurred to me that the girls, mostly eight or almost eight years old didn’t seem to understand that in a game, not everyone wins — that only the winner wins. And while I’m not a particularly competitive person by nature, I do believe that striving to win, to want to win, to want to excel, is not a bad thing.
However, it seems these days, in our misguided quest to make everyone the same and to protect from low self-esteem or hurt feelings, we’ve actually done our kids a serious disservice because in real life? We’re NOT all winners ALL the time. Life is, for the most part, a meritocracy based on our skills and abilities to perform well in some way, or in comparison to others.
I’m also of the opinion that losing gracefully is actually a skill that must be taught and mastered through experience. When we don’t win, we should, in theory, be compelled to try harder next time, to improve ourselves or at the very least, be okay with not being number one.
I don’t believe you can give someone self-esteem and you can’t nurture it by shielding them from losing or by telling them they’re a perfect and unique person just as they are.
Sure, that may be actually true because we ARE all unique and special in our own way but just telling kids that, from birth on, does nothing for them except breed a generation of mediocre underachievers with serious entitlement issues.
I am special and unique, like a snowflake, and that alone is reason to let me into your college or give me a promotion. I don’t need to work harder or try harder or improve myself because I am perfect just as I am.
That’s such crap.
Would Olympic athletes be compelled to be the best athlete they can be if everyone was handed a gold medal for participating? Would graduating from Harvard with honors mean anything if everyone graduated with honors regardless of their academic performance? I know those are extreme analogies but that’s how so many things are handled these days.
A somewhat related example… On a stormy day last year, in lieu of going outside, the first graders had a dance-off to burn off some energy and have some fun. My daughter, who apparently has some mad moves and skillz, won the dance-off, as voted by teachers and fellow students.
When she was presented with a little trinket, cries of cheating from the other girls ensued. How the hell do you cheat in a dance off?
Well, you don’t — but some of the other kids were upset that THEY didn’t win, or that they ALL didn’t win and thus, like me at the birthday party, the teacher opted to keep the peace by letting everyone visit the treasure box for a prize rather than deal with non-winner fallout and possible parental intervention.
Now, I’m not personally opposed to kids getting something from the treasure box. Whatever. I don’t really care. But I do oppose what was being reinforced to the kids about life and winning and losing and self-esteem.
Now to be fair, my daughter is also not a gracious loser in anything. She’s naturally competitive and loves to win. BUT the times she’s come home grousing about not winning something and that it’s not fair, I’ve told her straight up that you win some and you lose some; that having fun while doing your best is the key to enjoying competition. Has it sunk in yet? Meh. Maybe.
But am I actively contributing to the next generation of whiny, mediocre underachievers who feel the world owes them a medal just for showing up? HELL NO.
I don’t know exactly who is responsible for this cultural shift from meritocracy to whinocracy but something tells me that it’s largely fueled by well-intentioned parents who, in a misguided attempt to protect their kids, are shielding them from every possible hurt or disappointment and insist that everyone from coaches to teachers do the same OR ELSE!!!
I know some will think I’m a bad, bad person for having competitive games at a party and for thinking only winners should get prizes. I also know some will agree with me completely. I’d love to hear your point of view, whatever it may be.