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Participation trophies are great

Jon is the proud parent of an opinion about parenting. Specifically, that participation trophies are great, and that every kid should have one.

I'd like to present two things that happened on our Facebook this weekend. First, the two most-liked comments on our post celebrating the one-year anniversary of Mo'ne Davis throwing a Little League World Series shutout:


Second, the two most-liked comments on our post about James Harrison taking away participation trophies given to his kids because they didn't "earn" them:


Judging from these two instances, you'd be forgiven for drawing the conclusion that Facebook hates children. It's probably more complicated than that. I think Facebook is just where a lot of people go to be their unhappiest selves. We all build up stupid crap that has to go somewhere. For some people, Facebook is that stupid crap-vent.

I won't bother trying to convince anyone who dogs on Mo'ne Davis, because if you do, you're already a joyless lump with a mass-produced soul you can buy at the AutoZone, and you are beyond redemption. The institution of the participation trophy, though, is something I do want to talk about.

I think that participation trophies are great, and I think that neither the league that gives them nor the kids who receive them should be shamed by you. I think this for the following reasons:

1. Kids should be allowed to exist outside the meritocracy and appreciate themselves

The hyper-competitive parents among us seem anxious to usher their kids into the grand socioeconomic machinery of our world. One day they will learn: those gears and sprockets? Those aren't there to wheel you along. No, no, no, they're there to crush your bones. When that happens, it will not be an accident. A man in safety goggles will scribble into a clipboard and grimace and nod. The end.

Why one would want to hasten their child's introduction to this machine is beyond me. Trust me, you don't have to be the one to teach that. The world will take care of that for you. What the world won't necessarily teach, as evidenced by all the grown folks who tragically haven't learned it, is self-appreciation.

This is where the "political correctness has run wild" folks speak up. Fortunately, I am not only a member of the P.C. police, but the leader of a P.C. military junta, and I countermand their authority. (I am also smarter and taller than them.) A participation trophy can be a seemingly small but surprisingly meaningful gesture. When the machine eats you up, as it is built to do, your spirit is all that will save you. Love yourself.

2. Kids aren't as stupid as you're worried they are

Kids understand what's up. When I was seven, all the other kids on the softball team got the same participation trophy I did. We all understood that this was not a signifier of merit, it was a signifier that we went out and played.

The accomplishment of "going out there and playing" might not really mean anything to you. Your mileage may vary. Speaking for myself, I had four of those trophies, and I sat them all neatly on my windowsill. I knew they weren't fooling anybody, and I knew I wasn't a champion. But they were mine, damn it, and they were neat.

3. I'd rather my kid feel good than superior

At these ages, kids are still kind of grasping at the concepts of qualifiers and non-binary concepts. If you tell them, "you're better at baseball," they might well tune out two words in, and decide that they are simply better. Conditional superiority can be a dangerous thing to give a kid, because that kid might not understand the "conditional" part.

We return once again to self-appreciation. Qualify your kid's worth instead of quantifying it. As someone who has never been a parent, that is an order.

4. This isn't really a point but I wanted to say it in big letters: y'all hollering about participation trophies are weird and have bad ideas, but it's not too late for you, just stop being a dipshit

The end.


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