Why Participation Prizes are Failing an Entire Generation

I almost didn’t share this piece here. It isn’t what my blog is typically about, and if this isn’t your kind of interest, feel free to come back when I’m sharing something about recipes or cute things my toddler does. With that said, I feel like it’s something important that I need to get out, and it’s too much for me to just share on facebook. It needs to be said. And I’m going to be the one to say it.

I’ve found myself really plagued lately by stories in the news. Obviously, a lot of really awful stuff has been happening lately. Just in the past couple of months, we’ve seen two twelve year old girls stab a friend 19 times to please a fictional character, multiple mass shooting events (including the tragic events in Seattle just yesterday), and even some school stabbings. It’s tragic, it’s hard to wrap our heads around, and it’s just downright sucky; you consider the last few years and how much tragedy we’ve seen, from Sandy Hook to Boston to Aurora and we realize that a lot is going on.

But there are two incidents in particular that have been really standing out to me. First, there’s the incident where a student stabbed a fellow student because she refused to go to prom with him, and there’s a second incident where a person went on a killing spree after releasing a video complaining about how women don’t like him.

Both of these stories share a very common thread. These are two people who simply don’t know how to get rejected. And I feel like there is one very simple reason that we’re seeing more and more issues like this… we’re not teaching kids how to deal with not being accepted, not winning, not feeling like they deserve a high five or applause for every single thing they do. We’re raising a generation who needs a medal every time they play a sport, even if they don’t play it well. We have entire generations of kids who have gone through life being told that it’s okay to not be good enough at something because you’re going to be handed a prize anyway.

We’ve gotten to a point in society where if we disagree with someone, it automatically means we aren’t being open and accepting. Essentially, if I have an opinion that goes against your opinion, I am an arrogant close-minded fool, even if I state my piece amicably and then listen to your point of view. We’ve put so much emphasis on accepting everyone, on awarding everyone, on having that morale boost for everyone that we’re literally teaching our kids that they should get their way, that rejection shouldn’t happen.

I’ve been through the online dating circuit a time or two. It’s no secret. But I have literally had guys get angry with me (not to the point of killing me or anyone else, luckily) because I said “You seem like a nice guy, and I hope you find what you’re looking for, but I just don’t think we’re compatible.” I get it, rejection hurts. I’ve been through it, and it sucks. But seriously? Not learning how to take rejection without lashing out in anger is a really bad thing.

By giving everyone that pat on the back of “You’re a winner!” even when you’re getting 13th place in a tournament with 13 teams, we’re not teaching our kids that losing sucks, it hurts, and you can brush yourself off and vow to try harder the next time.

And when we fail to teach that to our kids when they’re young and it’s about something as insignificant as 4-year-old soccer (which is essentially Chicken Herding 101), then we’re going to have a generation of people who can’t take a rejection. It’s okay to take your losing 4 year old soccer team out for ice cream and say “Hey! You guys had fun out there, right?” But when you’re constantly valuing the “everyone’s a winner” mindset throughout life, you’re making it so when someone gets turned down for anything, it’s a horror story.

An acquaintance of mine shared the other day that he needed to quit his job as a waiter because “I can’t believe they make me constantly stand all day long. I don’t want to work a job where I’m on my feet all day long. They’re mistreating me and I feel like I should sue.” This, of course, came only weeks after he quit his job at a call center for having to sit all day long instead of getting to walk around.

Our sue-happy culture isn’t helping. Because of how we make everyone feel entitled to a prize, a pat on the back, a medal, we lead people to become entitled in all aspects. It’s why when I put a hot coffee between my legs and then that hot coffee spills on me, it’s your fault for not telling me that my hot coffee was hot. It’s why when I’m walking down a beach in a lightning storm and lightning hits me, I can blame an entire state for not telling me not to walk on the beach during a lightning storm. It’s why I feel justified in killing a person because they said no to my prom invitation. Because I have gone my entire life being told that I am a winner, that I deserve a prize, that I can’t learn to lose, to fail, to be told no, because it might damage me.

Instead, what we’ve done is told everyone “yes” so often that we’ve raised kids more damaged than the ones who were told no.

I’m not trying to trivialize what happened in either of those tragic incidents, and I’m not trying to say that tragedies like this didn’t occur before the age of participation prizes.

But I am trying to say that I do think there is a correlation between telling kids yes, yes, yes, all their lives, just to avoid hurting their fragile ego… and winding up with kids who just can’t take it when someone says “No. Thanks, but no.”

It scares me that we aren’t looking at these situations and thinking “Man, we really need to teach our kids how to handle rejection!” Instead, we’re watching these tragedies unfold, and blaming them on a million other things.

I don’t want my son to grow up thinking that he’s always a winner. I know that he is going to be great at a lot of things, but I also know he’s going to be bad at other things. I want to teach him to focus on those things he is good at, work hard to succeed there, and not let the stuff he is bad at get him down. I want him to learn that sometimes we fail, and that it’s okay.

I was a straight A student in school. Then I took Chemistry 2 in high school and almost failed. Had it not been for an amazing teacher who said “I know science isn’t your strong suit, but we’re going to get you through this class so you can focus on the things you ARE good at in college,” I would have failed the course. She didn’t say “Oh, you know what, I’m going to pass you just because I know how hard it is to fail at things and I don’t want you to go through that.” No, she said “Come by my classroom for extra study hours, arrive at school 45 minutes early so we can go over your homework and I can see what you’re getting wrong and help you learn, and do these extra assignments on the really hard equations you’re just not grasping not only so you get them drilled into your head before the test, but because the extra credit will help your grade.” I had to work hard for the B- I pulled in that class in the end. I couldn’t just get mad at my failings and go hurt people. I had to face it head-on and deal with the fact that I wasn’t good at science, that I never would be, but that in failing there, it really helped me narrow down the path I wanted to take in school, and was a good indicator that psychology fields that dealt with hard science weren’t for me. It saved me many hours in the psychology brain lab at my college (a lab that contained a freezer of brains and a deli slicer) because it made it clear to me that my talents were better suited towards creative arts like writing rather than hard sciences. Rejection from that teacher helped me grow as a person.

We’re failing our kids by not letting them learn from their failures. We’re creating a generation of monsters who can’t handle that things don’t always go their way. We’re creating a narcissistic generation epitomized by the quote in the song #SELFIE by the Chainsmokers: “I only got 10 likes in the last 5 minutes. Do you think I should take it down?” (referring to an Instagrammed Selfie). We have a generation so obsessed with everyone “liking” everything they do on every social media platform and in real life that people just can’t handle that sometimes it’s okay not to be liked, not to be #winning, and it’s okay for someone to say NO.


I’ll wrap up with this: Guys, if you ask a girl out, or to the prom, or on a date, or whatever, and she says no? Accept it. Move on. That’s one girl who doesn’t like you in a world of girls who will like you IF you focus on your personality and don’t think you can use looks or money to buy romance. Actually, for the right price in today’s society, you probably could buy romance, so scratch that. You’ll find someone, but not finding someone right now isn’t an excuse to hurt anyone. Girls, same thing. If you ask a guy out, or ask him to do something with you, or get dumped or rejected, or anything else… move on. Parents, teach your kids that it’s okay to be bad at some things, and recognize instead the things they’re good at. Not every kid will be valedictorian, get into Julliard, or be America’s Next Top Model. That’s okay, because these kids CAN grow up to do really great things if they’re raised to know that it’s better to focus on what they can do and take rejection as an opportunity for growth.

Work on yourself, guys and girls. Focus on being the best person you can possibly be, and eventually, the right person for you will come along. See rejection as a chance to improve, an opportunity to make changes in your life for the better. But whatever you do, do NOT look at rejection as an opportunity to hurt someone else. It’s not worth it.



  1. Amazingly put! I just had a conversation with a co-worker about this the other day. We also talked about how the older generations are blaming the younger generations of being “lazy, entitled etc. etc.” people, yet who do they learn from?

    I love this post!

    1. I’m glad you like the post, and yeah,I hear you– we’re lazy and entitled in many ways because the generations before us allowed us to become lazy and entitled, and taught us those values. It’s really unfortunate.

  2. I love this. It is so true. It really makes me sad when I see children all think they should get a prize for doing nothing. I think we have created a society of entitled people. We need to remember it takes hard work to be the best of something.

    1. I agree, it takes WORK to be the best. If we continue on the track we’re on, we’re going to have to have 50 different pro teams for sports just to accommodate all of the players that “deserve to be awarded” when they don’t have the talent, and we’ll need extra branches of NASA, etc, for the people who “tried really hard, made good effort!”

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