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Consequences of Participation Trophy America

“Life’s not fair - you have to learn to deal with it.”

I can still hear my father’s wise words from my youth, typically shared because of some school-related disappointment that I’m not sure I now even remember. Perhaps it was the failure to make the tennis team, cheerleader selection or any number of rejections that many children encounter daily because someone is either more talented or better qualified to receive the accolades. Compassion was expressed as well as encouragement to either work harder and smarter to attain that particular goal or suggestions made to continue exploring other talents God had bestowed on me.

What my dad did NOT offer was a participation trophy that fooled me into thinking that I earned something I had not. There’s a lot of value in the lessons of failure, but today’s culture wants to shelter our children from those lessons – insulate them from life’s disappointments – and too many times reward them for simply “showing up.”

An online article currently circulating in social media describes the growing numbers of college students who are woefully ill-prepared to face the mental demands of college. Titled “Coddled Kids Crumble,” it provides an alarming snapshot of these young adults and cites a college professor who notes “emotional fragility has become a serious problem when it comes to grading.” Faculty members are also concerned about the “emotional crises” as a result of subpar performance with some acknowledging fear of dealing with a student’s meltdown due to the grading system.

As I read the article, I had to wonder if the vast majority of these young adults have bedrooms at home filled with participation trophies they may not have actually earned and if the reality that life isn’t always fair is hitting them for the first time in their short lives. According to the article, college professors are seeing a decline in the resiliency of students and far too many lack the basic coping skills to deal with the stress of everyday life away from home. If children don’t learn these important lessons that life IS tough – and unfair – in their youth, how can we expect them to handle failure and disappointment as adults?

Our Participation Trophy America isn’t doing our children any favors, and we’re also undermining the value of success in the process.

By creating an environment and culture where everyone gets a trophy to protect fragile egos and leveling the playing field to be “fair,” are we really surprised that so many young Americans are now enthralled with presidential candidates advocating that the government owes them any number of goodies to include free college tuition?

Why do we as parents feel the need to protect our children from recognizing that we will always encounter someone smarter, more athletic, more artistic, or with some superior skill set than we possess? Understanding that reality will actually make our children stronger and tougher, necessary traits to compete in an unfair world.

My dad’s childhood was far from fair; the only child of uneducated, dirt-poor Alabama tenant farmers, he learned early that he would have to earn his spot in this world. Like so many Americans of his time and since, military service was his only means to an education. My dad died fairly young – at the age of 61 – long before watching three of his grandchildren grow up and marry, and before even knowing another one, reminding me yet again that “life’s not fair.” To my knowledge, he was never given a trophy during his childhood, participation or otherwise, but the life lessons he passed on to his own children exceed any trophy manufactured by human hands. Let our disappointments and failures teach us resiliency – but do not let them control us.

Source: Reilly, Deirdre. “Coddled Kids Crumble.”

Marcia Chambliss serves on the leadership team of Smart Girl Politics,, an online community for conservative women. She can be reached at: Her views do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Smart Girl Politics.


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