"I'm afraid of a world run by adults who were never spanked as kids and won trophies just for participating."—Anonymous
For years now, philosophies about raising children have been changing. More and more, children are allowed to do whatever they want under the cover of “individual expression” and “letting kids figure things out in their own way, at their own pace.” These days, parents frequently seem to be more interested in being friends with their children than disciplining them. To many modern parents, their children are always in the right and, thus, must always be treated as the best and the top—receiving the highest honors in everything they do.
There is undoubtedly merit in letting kids discover some things for themselves, but parents, coaches, teachers and all other authorities should be most interested in teaching children about the world. The world is not fair. Everyone does not always win. Sometimes, things do not work out. Children need to learn this. It will not always be a fun lesson. It will include strict rules and punishment. Children will not attain comparable awards or titles for identical effort and exertion because hard work does not always produce the same results. Children may be upset, and the authority may not be their favorite person anymore, but that is how children learn that the world does not revolve around them.
Children must be disciplined and held accountable for their actions. In schools, specifically, I often see parents complaining to the authorities about detention, a failed class or unequal playing-time in a sport. The child, not those in charge, should be held responsible. Children are not always obedient. They do not always do what they should in class. They are not equivalent athletes.
Even if the parent and child think a school rule is stupid, such as getting detention for not wearing a belt, the child must follow the rule or receive the consequences of disobedience. Sometimes, the kid may fail a class even with an excellent teacher at the helm. Coaches decide playing-time based on who is the best player, not based on parents who think their children “deserve” the same amount of playing-time that the other kids get. Parents love their children and want the best for them, but is it best to give children the idea that someone will always be there to get them out of trouble or to make sure they get what they have not earned?
Adults who were not held responsible as children sometimes become adults who do not acknowledge consequences. They think they can do whatever they want and that the world should answer to them. Often, they are also disrespectful to people in authority—and people do still have authority over each other, even in adulthood. Children need to know that they are not always most important. At times, they are subordinate. At other times, they are simply lesser at a given task and will, therefore, not receive the same outcomes.
In so many activities these days, everyone gets a trophy. Everyone is rewarded. Everyone is equivalent. We do not distinguish those who are good at something from those who are not because people’s feelings may get hurt if we do. But parents, teachers and coaches are not responsible for children’s self-esteem and what a child ultimately achieves. Sometimes, people will feel inferior because they do not succeed. Sometimes they will not be able to reach the same level that others reach.
The “everyone gets a trophy” ideology often leads to adults who think that mediocrity is acceptable. In the end, everyone will be rewarded and placed on equal ground because we are all equal, right? Wrong. Some people are better at some things. They work harder. They get more at the end. People do not deserve rewards and equal acknowledgment just for participation.
So what? I think we should be realistic. We should teach children that they are not perfect. They should be punished when they do not follow the rules. They should receive an F if they do not work hard enough or are not smart enough. They should be benched if they are not as athletic as their teammates. They will not all be rewarded equally in the end. The people who work harder and do better will get more. And those with more should not be forced to give up some of what they earned to bring the lesser up to an equal level. It will be uneven in the end. Competition is a necessary part of life. Isn’t that how we all got to Duke?
Maggie Hammerle is a Trinity junior. This is her final column in a biweekly series during the summer.