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From the Kitchen Table


The Trophy Generation

by Peg Luksik
 

The company CEO happened to glance out his window one morning at about 9:30,
and noticed a recently hired young employee strolling across the parking lot
toward the office door. He assumed that the young man had encountered some
problem, and dismissed it from his mind. But two days later, the same thing
occurred at the same time. So the executive began to watch.

The young man was arriving late three days every week. The executive called
the department supervisor to ask about the situation. He was told that not
only was the young man arriving late, he was leaving early. When
questioned, he replied that it was unreasonable for an employer to expect
people to come in at 9:00 AM when they had been up late the night before,
and that the employee did not feel that he was being "productive" after
4:00, so there was no real reason for him to stay at work. He did, of
course, expect to be paid for the full 8 hour day, whether he was present
for the entire 8 hours or not.

The supervisor had been attempting to work with the fellow. The executive
called the young man into his office and gave him a choice — either work 8
full hours every day, or find other employment. The young man quit,
declaring that the employer was being unfair. He told the employer that he
was worth way more than he was being paid, and that holding him to such
arbitrary standards as time was not acceptable. He was confident that he
would have no trouble finding a better job where his value would be truly
appreciated somewhere else.

Welcome to the trophy generation.

These are the young people who have been told that they were wonderful. They
didn't have to actually DO anything wonderful to get the praise, they were
just praised.

It used to be that if, for example, there was a sports tournament, the
winning team got the trophy, and the runners-up got a lesser award. Everyone
else might receive a participation certificate, but that was not considered
a reward. The idea was that the trophy had to be earned, usually through
hard work. But in the trophy generation, every child gets a medal just for
coming. The winning team might get a second award, or they might not. The
thinking was that it would damage the self-esteem of the children if
achievement was recognized and rewarded. The message that the children
heard was that hard work was not necessary or even valued.

The same thing has happened in academics, where valedictorians are rapidly
becoming a thing of the past, so we don't damage the self-esteem of the
children who did not merit the recognition. The same message was heard —
excellence, and the work ethic that causes it, are not valued.

Those children are now young adults. And they have internalized the message
that we sent them. They deserve to be rewarded just because they exist. They
don't have to earn anything — they are owed whatever they desire because,
after all, they are wonderful.

But adult life doesn't work that way. Adult life includes competition, and
expectations, and standards. The people who told a generation otherwise
have done real harm. There is no way to stop the painful learning curve
that is beginning to hit the members of the Trophy Generation.

But we can, and should, stop telling the same lies to today's children.


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