Trophy Children, Ctd

Andrew Sullivan —  Aug 7 2014 @ 5:43pm

Molly Knefel, the writer whose essay kicked off the popular thread, writes the Dish:

Thanks very much for the link, it’s been quite interesting to follow the discussion. Your characterization of my argument as simply pro-participation trophy, however, is incomplete. My essay is about recognizing children for what they’re good at, because every child is good at something. My argument isn’t about literal trophies, or not recognizing excellence, or mandatory participation awards. It’s about critiquing the idea that making all kids feel appreciated will somehow make them weak. So many children never get recognized for what they’re good at if they’re not the best at the predetermined categories.

A reader nods:

As someone who spent 23 years in the Navy, I find it odd that we think society will fall if we recognize collective achievement by children.

Such presentations are a sacred tradition in the military, where anytime you depart a command you are awarded a plaque, framed photo, or other memento recognizing your contribution to that unit – for simply having been on the team. Yes, if you do good work you are also rewarded with a medal or a letter of commendation, usually presented at a different ceremony. But what I have on my wall are the plaques, the “crossing-the-line” certificate, and the photos signed by my comrades. Those are what bring back great memories for me and make me glad I served. If this system is good enough for the warriors, it’s good enough for the wee ones.

Another argues that awarding individual trophies for kids’ team sports is “a totally misguided concept”:

For sports like soccer, football and basketball, the children who are awarded individual trophies are often those who play most selfishly. Even at very high levels of basketball, the perception is that players who score the most points are the most skilled. However, the players who score the most are usually just those that take the most shots, which in the case of basketball means literally taking them from your teammates. Sports statisticians like Dave Berri and Andres Alvarez have shown that a player who scores a lot but does so inefficiently actually has a negative impact on his teams’ chances to win but will still be perceived as more valuable than his teammates.

Other sports are less extreme examples, but the point is that it’s very hard to tease out individual performance from team results. Having individual awards in team sports for children often ends up with the kids watching their most selfish teammate congratulated by adults for his selfish play.

Another gives us pause:

My child is a trophy child. She had a brain tumor at birth that we discovered when she was three months old, thanks to some all-night seizures. Three surgeries and four months later, almost the entire tumor had been removed. What remains will hopefully not cause additional seizures, hormone imbalances, or other problems. The stroke during her second surgery (at six months of age) meant she had to spend two weeks in a neurorehabilitation hospital once she recovered enough from surgeries to remain conscious. Now almost four years old and three years later, she has had roughly 8 OT, PT and speech therapy appointments per week since being released from the hospital.

I know that perhaps this all sounds whiny or like I’m trying to shame those who worry about their children’s or other children’s medals, but I don’t mean it that way. I mean no offense to anyone; I’m just reflecting on how my daughter and maybe other kids with special needs are so often not included in societal hand-wringing about “kids today.”