Let’s Talk: Debating “Trophy Kids” and Participation Awards

Much has been written about the “entitlement generation” and how Millenial students are accustomed to receiving rewards for accomplishing everyday tasks.  Working for an awards company, I have often engaged in conversation with customers that covers both sides of the argument.  Some parents exclaim, “When I was young, I had to work hard for my trophies.  They weren’t just given out to everyone.”  Others are thrilled that we offer stock ribbons with Participant or “Everyone is a Winner” designs so that children build confidence and have a memento of their event.

In recent years, the “anti-award” side of the argument has caught on more in the press as the “trophy kids” have grown up. Critics claim that participation awards and “a trophy for everyone” has raised a generation that expects a reward for mediocrity.

Certainly we do see orders where, for example, everyone at a swim meet gets a ribbon up to 30th place.  While we understand the purpose behind awarding ribbons to (nearly) all the participants, we are not blind to the fact that the swimmers receiving our 27th place ribbon probably won’t treasure it the way they would a first place ribbon.

Then again, just because a team in a rec league doesn’t make it to the Championship game doesn’t mean that that particular season wasn’t a great learning experience or great source of memories.  A small award for those team members may be just as valuable as a winner’s medal, just for different reasons. 

So here’s the part where we encourage some lively conversation.  Have you awarded trophies or ribbons for participation?  Did you feel it was the right thing to do or were they just to stop the tears?   Do you think you value awards you received as a child more than today’s kids do?  Share your opinion in the comments.