Hollow Trophy

James Harrison, linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers, has received a lot of attention for his plan to return trophies his sons received for participating in a sporting activity. He said, “I came home to find out that my boys received two trophies for nothing, participation trophies! While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do and will encourage them till the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they EARN a real trophy.” Harrison went on to say, “Everything in life should be earned, and I’m not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best…cause sometimes your best is not enough, and that should drive you to want to do better…not cry and whine until somebody gives you something to shut you up and keep you happy.”

The pursuit of happiness

Over the last decade or so there has been a focus on so-called “self-esteem,” which has included an aversion to competition, criticism and correction in favor of praise, promotion and potential. We want our kids to succeed and to be happy. However, Barry Schwartz, professor at Swarthmore College, notes, “Happiness as a byproduct of living your life is a great thing. But happiness as a goal is a recipe for disaster.”

Our discomfort with discomfort

Dan Kindlon, child psychologist and lecturer at Harvard, says if kids can’t experience struggle and pain they won’t develop “psychological immunity.” As a result they won’t know how to deal with not getting the starring role, being cut from the team, or receiving criticism on a class paper. School faculty and administrators are now spending quite a bit of time responding to parental involvement in what should be a student’s responsibility to study hard, be prepared, and, on limited occasions, raise warranted concerns on his or her own behalf.

The adult journey

In the adult world, everyone does not get a trophy. The world of the adult is full of possibility punctuated by frustration and disappointment. Certainly we need to encourage our children, but we need also to prepare them for discouragement. When we reward our kids for participating—win, lose or draw—out of concern for their self-esteem, we are redefining the meaning of success.

Harrison’s life lesson seems right on. Kids develop self-esteem by tackling challenges, recovering from uncertainty and striving to do well. They build self-esteem by overcoming adversity. Parents stunt their child’s development by lowering those hurdles and expectations. Parents accelerate their child’s growth by helping them navigate through trials towards achievement—not through participation trophies.

All kids are not good at all things. However, every kid is good at something. Our job as parents is to help our children identify those things at which they excel and help provide the resources for them to be successful.

By dads2dads

Guys, You Blew It!

Okay, so we blew it. That’s what one reader told us in an e-mail. We’ll call him Joe (and of course, as we all know, this is not his real name). And maybe Joe’s right. If we want our children, young or older, to be grateful for what they have and for what mom and dad have sacrificed to provide them, Joe said, then as parents we need to model the gratitude we expect from them. Joe said if your children are taught to be thankful when they’re young, it will carry over to their teenage years. So … yep, maybe we blew it somewhere along the way.

When we met with other dads and discussed this particular subject, however, nearly all of them expressed the same feeling. I guess even adults have to grow up as they get older. And maybe that process differs with all of us. We are darned proud of now-grown children. They have done well, and there is now evidence that they see and understand that we all stand on the drooping shoulders of others before us. Anyway, Joe, thank you.

Talk it and Walk It
This is a great segue into another email we received from a mom who asked for suggestions on how parents can instill a sense of gratitude in their children. Referencing Joe again, parents do need to model the behavior they expect from their sons and daughters. You have to talk the talk — and also walk it. That’s difficult for us when we deal daily with an ungrateful boss or neighbor or client or creditor and yet are expected to model behavior that we seldom experience ourselves. Gratitude takes effort and energy!

Acknowledge the gift and giver
It’s a good habit to acknowledge the gifts that you have received, whether they are tangible items wrapped in fancy paper or skills and abilities that comprise your DNA. Allow your children — whatever their ages — to see, hear, feel and celebrate your gratitude for all that you receive.

Go climb a tree
Explore your family tree. When Tom and his brother drilled down into their family, they discovered they are who they are, in large part, because of the characteristics of their father, grandfather and his father. Tom is proud of that heritage, and he is grateful. But they waited until they were much older to start this exploration. We would suggest taking that journey as soon as you can. There is a wealth of gratitude in discovering those many pairs of shoulders that came before. (Tom’s daughters have drilled down only far enough to discover that they inherited their obsession for organization, order and impatience from their dad. Their appreciation is not yet evident.)

Home is where the hugs are
Most of all, however, mom and dad, we believe you should express thanks for your kids to your kids. Many dads especially find it awkward to reveal their tender side. Under that thick skin and tough exterior bubbles a pool of hugs and kisses and words of encouragement, pride and love. Teenagers need to hear that they are loved and appreciated for who they are, just as they are — and they need to hear it at home. Sometimes they seldom hear it anywhere else.

By dads2dads

What Do You Say, Tommy?

Call us self-indulgent but we think teenagers should be grateful to their parents from whom their blessings flow — and they should express that gratitude by their words and actions.

When we were young, what was one of the first things our parents taught us? Whenever Aunt Audrey gave us soap on a rope, or the guy at the store slipped us one of those tiny candy bars, or someone at church ruffled our hair and told us how nice we looked in our gray suit, Mother would lean over, tilt her head slightly, and gently but firmly offer, “What do you say?” And on cue we muttered a squeaky thank-you. It was what you did. It was appropriate, proper, even expected.

The Teen-age Exemption

So now Tommy is a teenager and doesn’t need to say thank you. And why is that? Well, because parents are doing for their kids what parents are supposed to do. Doing, giving, sacrificing are part of the parental job description. We do, give and sacrifice out of love.

So what happened to, “And, sweetie, what do you say in return?” When did offspring earn an entitlement that exempted them from having to say thank-you … out loud … with joy in the heart?

We know how this is going to sound so there’s no use in sugar-coating it. Yes, mom and dad do and give and sacrifice out of love for their kids. Likewise, we believe their kids, most certainly their teenagers, should do and give and sacrifice out of gratitude.

What’s the Big Deal?

If only that tall, strapping son of ours would dry the dishes in the rack from the meal he just wolfed down that staved off starvation. If only daughter would put the pens back in the phone drawer instead of carrying them off to her room, repeatedly. “I know there was a pen in this drawer. I’ve put a half dozen in here myself.”

If only son or daughter would notice the dog gyrating by the back door and take him outside to his favorite bush. We’re busy cleaning lettuce for the salad, watching the pork chops so they don’t burn on the grill, and setting the table. Daughter’s watching tv. When’s mom coming home?

The Way It Used to Be

We know, we’re asking for the moon. We’re probably pining for the way it used to be when we could simply lean over, tilt our head slightly, look our son or daughter in the eye and say earnestly … “What do you say, sweetie?” And the response was “thank-you,” a smile, a hug, or maybe all three.

By dads2dads