Not Everyone Gets A Prize

My 9 year old son just started “Robotics Camp” today. It’s a week long camp conducted by the College of Engineering here at the local university in an attempt to foster interest on the part of the youngsters about math, science, and engineering as they pertain to robotics. It’s an exclusive camp that’s in high demand and we feel fortunate to be able to send him. I found out why it may be in such high demand when I read a letter to parents. The camp is run by some very astute individuals who don’t want to cheapen the learning process with a lot of politically correct babysitting and hand holding. Here’s a quote from the letter:

Prior to the camp, we ask that parents discuss the importance of teamwork, patience, and following directions.

This camp encourages failure — yes you read that right! When we push the boundaries of learning and creativity, failure is a good thing because experimentation does not always lead to success, sometimes we fail. When something doesn’t work the first time, we use our brains to find a solution and that is where real thinking and learning occurs. Further, your child will not bring home a project, a robot, or even a prize! [emphasis mine] Each session may or may not lead to a working project. It is the process of intense discovery-based problem-solving and collaboration that offers an invaluable reward.

I can’t tell you how happy I was to read that.

When did we start thinking that everyone should get a prize or trophy just for participating? Trophies used to mean something, now they’re just proof you showed up and your parents paid the fee. They’re been cheapened by self-esteem inflation.

Telling all the members of a group they’re winners when they’re not doesn’t help anyone’s self-esteem. They know the truth and they know you’re just blowing hot air. That probably does more to damage self-esteem than help it in the long run. I think that you help a person develop good self-esteem when you help them learn to become an achiever, not when you tickle their ears with empty platitudes. Teach them how to use self discipline and watch their self-esteem and motivation soar.

It would appear to me that we’ve raised a generation that has their expectations set way too high. They expect praise at every turn, a happy meal when things go poorly, and to be told they’re winners when they really came in dead last because that’s how they were treated their entire lives by their helicopter parents.  I know one human resources professional that actually had a mommy come to her 28 year old son’s interview to “help him with the questions.” She was dumbfounded when she wasn’t allowed to participate in the interview (I was surprised they went ahead with the it!).

In today’s economy, someone has to re-set expectation levels to something much more realistic. That someone has to be the people in positions of leadership at all levels. That’s why I’m glad the College of Engineering is willing to treat kids differently than perhaps parents have treated them. It’s refreshing.

What’s your take? Should everyone get a trophy?

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