When did we start giving awards for everything?

Images I talked to a friend the other day who had just come back from Kindergarten graduation.  She asked the question that I have asked myself, when did we start giving awards for everything? I'd love to know how we got to this place. 

Kids are acknowledged at each turn for their achievements regardless of not achieving anything that major.  I've seen it and heard about it from friends over the years.  My kid graduates lower school today and there is an event.  Each kid gets some type of an award for their achievements.  How come?  What happened to acknowledging the one or two kids that truly did something exceptional.  Is it for the parents or the kids?  If each kids knows that they will get some type of an award at the end of the year then when do we teach it is ok to be just you.  If you get a reward at every turn, how do we learn to fail?  How do we learn from our mistakes. 

Sports awards ceremonies not only acknowledge the MVP of the High School basketball team but attempt to make sure each kid gets something.  Why?  We all know who the MVP was and that is ok.  Are we setting up our kids to get patted on the back for everything they do.  When these kids go on to college and eventually the real world, are they going to be expected to be patted on the back every time they do the job right.  Isn't that a given that we should do the job that we were expected to do even if that job is reading a book for an assignment and writing a paper on it. How will these kids be able to feel good about their own personal accomplishments without outside acknowledgement.

Aren't we expected to go to school, do well, graduate from High School and hopefully go on to college or perhaps a different path but the path that each person figures out for themselves.  If everything these kids do is acknowledged with an award and a good job then what type of adults will these kids be? 

How can we go back to acknowledging kids for a job well done without an award and giving them room to fail.  At one point, this constant round of applause will stop and then what. 

I had the pleasure of speaking with a group of young adults who are at Yale or have graduated this week who all have the desire to be entrepreneurs at some level.  I say at some level because many of them want to work in start-ups from the onset and hope that one day they will come up with their own idea for a company. 

We discussed a variety of different topics but at the end, the young woman who ran this program, asked me what my advice would be to them as they graduate college and go out in to the world.  My advice was be nice to everyone you meet regardless if they seem like they are an asshole because you never know, if you have a desire to be in a particular vertical/industry then keep knocking on that door until you get in because you don't want to find yourself five years down the road in an industry that doesn't excite you and most important…..it is okay to fail.  Failing is part of the learning process of life, failing is okay, failing means you put yourself our there, failing means you took a risk, failing means you have learned a valuable lesson. 

After I finished, there was a noticable sigh and smile among the group.  She said, that is so good to hear, it makes me feel much better. 


Comments (Archived):

    1. Gotham Gal

      Nice post. Thanks David!

  1. Andy Ellis

    This is an incredibly interesting topic; I’m in grad school now and my classmates were exposed to the beginnings of this award heavy culture to varying degrees.  It’s odd to observe (and experience!) the reactions that we get from negative feedback or realizing the shift from elite, elite, elite, elite, to middle of the pack.  I didn’t particularly ever think of myself as ‘elite’ because I was lucky enough to have parents who kept me grounded, but many of my classmates have difficulty coming to terms with no longer being the head of the pack.The balance of positive feedback without aggrandizement seems to be a difficult one to obtain.  If you have some free time, an excellent essay in the American Scholar that is at least tangentially related to the topic is here: http://www.theamericanschol… by William Deresiewicz. I’ve been reading your blog for quite a while and have really enjoyed it, thanks for writing!  (The last time I was in NYC, I insisted that that my friend that was putting me up go with me to Jeffrey’s. Needless to say we were both wowed by the experience. He’s been back quite a few times since).

    1. Gotham Gal

      I will definitely read this. My guess is that top students just getting tocollege and getting a bad grade is humbling and scary at the same time

  2. kirklove

    Great post. You’re on a roll!I certainly admire how “tough” you are (and I say that in the most positive way) and how open you are as well. It’s such a rare, yet wonderful combination. My father is the same way. You take your lumps and deal with it was a common theme, though he countered that with always be inquisitive, ask questions, don’t settle. 

    1. Gotham Gal

      Thanks so much Kirk. I agree with your Dad. My Dad used to say No questionis a dumb question.

  3. Tereza

    I really agree on that.  Just dealt with that last week!  My daughter had a karate tournament last Saturday.  We had to pay $40 to participate even though it was in the regular place.  Why?  To pay for the plastic trophy they were guaranteed to get.Now, I love this dojo but there also was not going to be physical space for parents to watch (because of rain).  So other parents jammed in but bc my 4-yo is a PITA I was like — no way could I sit in there and ruin it for everybody.  And figured, why put pressure on Margot to win?  I am a quite tough mom in some chosen areas (school, piano) but in others I’m really loose.  So I left, did errands, etc.  She doesn’t need me hovering, she needs her space to figure her stuff out.  I know many parents would disagree with me on that.So I get back to pick her up, and turns out she won the whole thing.  She got a small medal, in addition to the trophy (that everyone got).  And guess what.  The trophy is now collecting dust on a shelf.  But that small medal — that’s next to her bed.Asked her after, “Tell me what you did to win?  What things did you do?”  She said, “Well, it was a number of defensive techniques.”  LOL.  I took her on a surprise cupcake run with mommy and we had a really nice time.Am I bummed I missed taking the video footage?  Completely.  But I have to say I’m not entirely sure she’d have had the same experience if I’d been there.  Performing for me changes things.  (I’m intense!  That’s not always good!!)  This is something she now owns, by herself, and I’m psyched about that.We need space and struggle to grow.

    1. Gotham Gal

      My oldest daughter has so many trophies from over the years it islaughable. At every turn, every event, everything….a trophy or medal.Ridiculous

      1. Tereza

        Dust collectors! Curious to know at age 20+ if she remembers the specific events each one was for. 🙂

        1. Gotham Gal

          No way. They are packed away in a huge box in storage!

          1. Jonathan

            It feelslike we live in a world of over-observed over-achievers. The benchmarks are grades, where yougo to high school and then college, maybe what team you play on (and who you beat), and ultimatelywhere you work (notice I didn’t say what you do). Parents enjoy (even crave) theirchildren receiving accolades, even if it was for just showing up.  They hover like helicopters, makingsure their kids don’t taste failure – lest their self-esteem be irreparablydamaged. The kids grow to depend on the parents in a way that earliergenerations didn’t/wouldn’t/couldn’t. Texts, emails, and phone calls fly backand forth, enabling careful observation and way too muchinformation flow. I am reminded of a story I was told by a former seniorinvestment banker at a now defunct firm. The analysts they hired were classicoverachievers – amazing schools, incredibly smart, able to work 80 hours a weekand not miss not having a life. They also had never failed at anything, ever.My friend gave one analyst a poor review. The kid had never heard the words“needs improvement” and their name in the same sentence and was devastated.Soon after, my friend got a call from the parent complaining about it! Huh? Theparent did the kid’s career no favors. They (the parent) thought they weredoing the right thing – like bitching to a teacher about Billy’s B- in Junioryear English. But it is hard for a parent not to be there for their kids,protecting them is a reflex action. Where and how to draw the line is the hardpart. 

          2. Gotham Gal

            Wow. Id say calling your kids boss is way over the line. Insane!

  4. BB

    http://www.theatlantic.com/… The ramifications of the “everybody wins” philosophy and to your other point that not allowing your child to experience failure or disappointment early on just sets them up for a world of hurt when they have their first setback at 25.  Lots of stuff I’m sure you know implicitly, but a good reminder that perfect is not the goal, and the pursuit of perfection in parenting is wrought with all kinds of scary implications down the road.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Thanks for linking to the article. I will definitely read it.There is no doubt that setting up a life for your children with no room forfailure has serious repercussions down the line

  5. Rohan

    It is scary. Back home in India, students are committing suicide as a result of not making it to the college of their choice.The more we pretend like failure doesn’t exist, the more we’re encouraging disillusionment.

    1. Gotham Gal

      When we lived in the suburbs, they would rank the kids in the High School atthe end of the year to show the best and the brightest for colleges.Suicides took place every year. They stopped doing it and the suicidesstopped too.I couldn’t agree more. When we pretend like failure doesn’t exist, the morewe’re encouraging disillusionment. Nice one.

      1. Rohan

        That’s an interesting note about the suburbs.Thanks GG. Love your blog.. especially all your family/mom/kids/upbringing/dog posts! 🙂

        1. Gotham Gal

          Thanks Rohan

  6. Steven

    What if instead of too many awards being whittled down to just the “earned” ones, we started thinking about having no awards? Start with MVP – why is that OK? Is the athlete (chef, business person, academic who excels) motivated by the award, by “winning” by beating the “competition”. What if we got it out of our heads that we need to “win”. What if we did not say we learn by our “failures” but simply that we learn. What if people, companies, countries thought that the way to live better is to eliminate notions of competition replaced by intentional cooperation, mutual respect and, if i can say it without sounding like a total sap, caring? What if the Least Valuable Player is actually (in ways we do not fully appreciate or even understand) the MVP? What if judging, evaluating, sifting, assessing,and doing all the things we seem to insitnctively do 24/7 is what we are meant and need (in some evolutionary sense) to overcome? I am with you, awards for everyone make no sense, but maybe, repulsive as I suspect this may sound,  awards for anyone make even less? Just a thought as I look out and see scarcity (broadly defined) frightening everyone into their own small corners between rounds. Maybe until we somehow unbrainwash notions of competition from our our mindset, vocabulary, morality, economy, politics our souls (as Yeats put it) wil never clap their hands and sing? Why can’t the graduating lower school class just say we love and appreciate each other and that we are all Valuable Players, none more than others at any deep level. Isn’t  that meek, introverted, awkward, sad kid as equally deserving in ways that matter more than spelling,shooting, hitting or winning?

    1. Gotham Gal

      you certainly do bring up a good point but personally i think there isnothing wrong with a little competition. find the place where you feel goodabout competing.

      1. Steven

        I appreciate your common good sense and voice of moderation but competition, like religion, seems to be one of those things that hold promise but sadly account for atrocities that seem to never end. It is human fault not religion or competition per se but I worry that unless we radically (not moderately) rethink our beliefs humans (the most invasive species of all time) may destroy the whole ball of wax. A liitle competition, may be like a few termites or like a small religious crusade…next thing you know, no house and it is the dark ages. I vote to at least think about a world without any termites.

  7. Steven Kane

    A few months ago I sat down with my boys, ages 9 and 12, and talked about how trophies and awards are really supposed to reward genuine accomplishment. They had no problem agreeing, readily. I then suggested their rooms were getting cluttered with trophies and awards they got basically just for showing up — and that if they didn’t mind, I would scoop them all up and throw them all in the garbage. And in future, we would only keep awards and trophies for genuine accomplishment. To my delight, the boys easily agreed and helped me and we tossed in the trash all the trophies and awards and certificates in their rooms, except for the precious few that marked some real accomplishment.I was proud of my kids. And also a little baffled as to why anyone thinks kids are fooled or persuaded by empty awards…

    1. Gotham Gal

      nice story. the kids know, they always know. it is the parents foolingthemselves.

  8. Lisa Mogull

    Gotham Gal you are so right about the importance of being nice.  A very wise mentor of mine said that the only thing most people remember about you is how gracious you were.  It’s so true and it’s so important in life to be someone people are happy to see, help and interact with.  I tell my son that everyday. That shouldn’t be confused with being a doormat — it’s an important way of earning respect.  There is a great saying in the entertainment industry that you “see the same people on the way down that you saw on the way up.”  You want those people to help you back onto the upwards trajectory instead of gleefully watching you fail.Most importantly we want our kids to grow up to be people who can take responsibility and help themselves when things don’t go as desired or expected.  They grow up to be happier people that way and feel a genuine sense of accomplishment when it’s warranted.

  9. LGBlueSky

    Great post. My son got to the finals of a tennis tourney without playing a match. He lost and declined the trophy. I was so proud.

  10. Eric Klein

    When did they move to a graduation for every change of school? It used to be just High School and College/University graduations.Now I keep hearing about Kindergarten graduations. What is next the Valor-Dictorian at these Kindergarten graduations will get to make a speech? Parents will brag that their child graduated kindergarten Magna Cum Laude? I can just see the bumper sticker war now.From a system that automatically advances a child to “keep them with their age group” the idea that every kid should get an award is just sick.

    1. Gotham Gal

      the good news is that I believe the next generation will have a knee jerkreaction to that type of behavior because luckily each generation learnsfrom the past one and changes it up.

  11. Laura Daly

    Brilliant post could not agree more. The idea of a Kindergarden Graduation leaves me cold because it plants the seed of rewards for just being there in a good or bad way. It also takes the good out the real achivements a child may achive someday after having really worked or played hard for a real reward.

    1. Gotham Gal

      simply put, real achievements deserve real awards.

  12. qwerty_4321

    I had a nephew get an award for “courage”. The “courage” he exemplified was for attending a new school in the middle of the year after moving. Really? This is “courage”? These awards are a joke. As I like to say, if we could harness the energy of all the sunshine being blown up kids’ behinds we’d solve the world’s energy crisis.

    1. Gotham Gal

      We certainly would