This time of year, we see many young people winning awards – athletic awards, academic awards, blah blah blah awards. Parents love posting on social media the picture of their child with their awards and it never fails that they say, “I’m proud of you.” Here is a question? Would we still be proud if they didn’t win? I don’t see posts about kids ‘losing’ and the parents saying how proud they are. (Sometimes runner-up and placings will get posted, but what if they don’t even place?) I am not sure we understand the message that is being sent.
I am proud of you because of something you did, not because of who you are. I am proud of you for achievements, but not for character traits. Success is based on an extrinsic reward and this is where love and affirmation is earned.
Internally, this can wreak havoc on a person. There will always be striving to win. There will be internal pressure to achieve. There is a subtle voice inside that says, ‘if you don’t win, people won’t love you.’
I remember winning accolade after accolade in high school. I worked hard, and it wasn’t that I didn’t deserve them. As a matter of fact, I worked hard because I desired such awards. You know what? I would still feel not good enough even after winning. Now, I was blessed. My parents never pressured me in sports or in school work. I didn’t get treats based on my performance. I was loved equally no matter what. Where did the pressure come from? I have lots of theories, but the world we live in tells us we need to achieve and that our success is based on such. When high school was over, when my playing career was over I was faced with looking at myself and asking – who am I? You see, every time I would come home from college I was asked about basketball. My identity was based on what I did, not who I was. I went onto coaching, then teaching. When those quickly turned ugly early on in my adult life, I was asking again, who am I? Why is it we focus on the outside and not on the inside? Trust me, this wreaked havoc on me emotionally, psychologically and spiritually! We are associated with our jobs, our role as a parent and not on who we are as a person. And we wonder why young people, let alone us grown adults, struggle with depression?
About twenty years ago I threw away or got rid of the majority of my trophies. They didn’t have value anymore. I kept a few. I kept my awards from showing dairy in 4H because they represented my dad and our farm. I kept a couple college academic awards. I was the 1993 celebrity donkey riding champion of the LaGrange County fair (how many have this kind of award?) But my most prized trophy that I kept was one from my first varsity basketball coach, Rick Gregg. It has two parts. I would go to the town park and practice basketball a few hours a day, everyday. When Coach Hudson replaced the nets, he gave me a piece of the net since I was the one wearing them out. Then, Coach Gregg gave me an award for ‘Extra Effort.’ You see, he acknowledged my work ethic. Not my achievement.
Can we be more careful with our words, our actions and what we recognize in our young people?
Can we be more intentional about saying how much we love them and our proud of them because of the person they are and not because of an award they got?
Is there truly a good reason to give an MVP to a 6 or 7 year old?
If your child knows, and they do, that you are recognizing them (taking pictures, posting on social media) when they win something, trust me, there is a part of them that is associating love with achievement. Please, let’s be careful. When I got hurt and couldn’t play sports anymore, I felt I let everyone down. It was crushing. CRUSHING. It led me down a path of extreme depression (suicidal) and substance abuse. The internal conflict almost destroyed. (But by the grace of God, and intervention, I am still alive today.)
(Disclaimer: I also have posted pics of my daughter. I try to be very careful with it and what I say. She doesn’t win a lot of awards, mainly because that isn’t her goal. We talk a lot about awards and not winning actually. Because in life, we certainly ‘lose’ a lot more than win.)
“I am proud of you. I am proud of you because you are an over-comer. I am proud of you because you care. I am proud of you because you are a great teammate and are self-less. I am proud of you because you are an honest, responsible, loving individual.”
There might not be trophies like that, but the rewards are everlasting, eternal and much greater.