The Trophy Culture Sickness

The notion that you can enhance the self-esteem of a child through praise, compliments and trophies is the driving force behind the current ‘SPECIALNESS’ culture, that is, all children should be made to feel SPECIAL. This idea, demanded by parents, even goes into the elimination of competition by no longer keeping score, thus having no winners or losers.

The idea is to protect the child from feeling badly from losing. The assumption is that children ‘need’ to be made to feel special, so that they feel good about themselves and have (as though instantly given with a trophy) good, positive self-esteem.

As a man with 70+ years of life experience and a former Marine, my initial response is, “ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME!!!!!!” As a clinical psychologist and USOC sport psychologist, my response will be more apropos but fundamentally the same.

Parents cannot build self-esteem in their children. Parents need to understand that play is the way children learn how to BE in the world. As children grow older their play becomes more complex and begins to include others. Important life lessons are learned in play. We learn about ourselves and where we stand on the continuum of skills and abilities with our peers.  Strengths and weaknesses are reflected through our participation in play. Life experiences are the building blocks for self-esteem. It is through mastery, personal successes AND FAILURES, that a child builds self-esteem and self-confidence.

Parents will never build self-esteem in their children by filling them with ‘perpetual specialness’, by trying to protect them from competitive pain, from failure……from life. Mothers mostly, but also passive dependent ‘type’ fathers, are the driving force behind this notion.

The ‘specialness’ notion is driven from a nurturing position. At a much deeper level the specialness notion has to do with the parent’s unconscious conflict with their own aggressive impulses and with an overcompensating desire to make sure their children get ALL that they did not get while growing up. Parents need to eliminate aggression from their children’s’ play for their own unconscious issues with anger.

It is over protection and subtle boundary intrusion on the mothers/parents part. Children are resilient; they can handle failure if the parents can. Mothers and fathers driven by guilt and unresolved unconscious anger over compensate and create this delusional idea of SPECIALNESS.

Parents, at best, are stifling the child, at worst, crippling them for life. The SPECIAL children are growing up with an overwhelming sense of entitlement, and inability to tolerate frustration, impulsive and lacking a sense of who they are and what in life truly ‘tastes’ good to them.

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