What’s wrong with participation trophies?

I wrote this five years ago and I think some of my thoughts back then are still relevant. Let me know what you think about a generation of kids being raised with participation trophies, too.

Healthy competition at a swim meet.

Healthy competition at a swim meet.

Why are our kids getting awards for showing up? Is it damaging to make them believe they’ve earned something without achieving it?

Kids instinctively know who’s the smartest in the class. They know who the fastest runners and best athletes are. By not recognizing achievement, what are we adults trying to prove? That everybody is equal? It’s not if you win or lose, but how you play the game?

Robert with friends at CSF banquet where they were recognized for academic achievement.

Robert with friends at CSF banquet where they were recognized for academic achievement. Did you know that some schools have done away with valedictorians because it’s hurtful?

An NFL star named James Harrison of the Pittsburg Steelers made headlines this summer because he returned his sons participation trophies.

“I came home to find out that my boys received two trophies for nothing, participation trophies!” the linebacker wrote. While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do and will encourage them ’til the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they EARN a real trophy,” Harrison said.

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I believe by not having winners and losers we are encouraging mediocrity. We are telling kids that when they are older and have a job, that it’s fine to just show up and they’ll receive raises automatically. We are taking away a valuable lesson that should be learned at an early age—how to handle failure.

I think it’s great that my kids are swimmers and they learned how to deal with failure. Swimming is a pure sport. Kids are racing against a clock. It’s not subjective. It’s not judged (well, not much—there are officials that DQ swimmers for technical mistakes). The point is this: everyone does not get a ribbon, nor a participation trophy. There are winners and losers. Kids learn from this.

trophyAs a team we celebrated achievement and excellence. We held send-off parties for Junior Olympics, Juniors and National meets. We sent a swimmer to the Olympics twice—Beijing and London. We had pot-luck dinners on deck and goodie bags, special caps and t-shirts for the ones who made it to higher level meets. We had annual banquets with four awards per group. For the fastest boy and girl strictly based on time. And the coach’s awards, based on criteria such as attendance and effort.

Those were proud times for all swimmers and parents. The kids who didn’t receive awards or goodie bags did not have their self-esteem pummeled. Instead, they were motivated to achieve and work harder so they could get recognized someday, too. They cheered loudly with team pride for their teammates.

I’ve written about how failure helps kids this week on SwimSwam, and previously in What My Kids Learned While Staying Wet.

By giving everyone ribbons and medals for participation, we are holding our kids back. They aren’t learning what losing teaches—working hard, resilience, good sportsmanship, empathy and persistence.

My son getting a hug from his piano teacher for a beautifully played Clair de Lune.

My son getting a hug and present from his piano teacher for a beautifully played Clair de Lune at his senior recital.

My kids are definitely persistent, almost to the point of “stop already!” They have a never-give-up attitude that serves them well. They were never the most talented swimmers who could jump in and make finals at JOs. No, they were the ones like the tortoise, who had to work steady for years and years to catch the hare.

One of our fellow swim parents said it best:  “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

I guess a character named Yoda said it first.

Do you have experiences where all kids received trophies at school or in sports? What’s your opinion about participation trophies? Please comment below. I’d love to hear your stories.

My daughter and teammates at Junior Olympics.

My daughter and teammates at Junior Olympics.

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How do I get rid of an unwanted guest?

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A surprise left in our yard.

He’s not really a guest. In fact, he’s a homeless intruder who thinks he lives at our house. We called the cops on him in October. I wrote about him here.

Today, my husband came home from work and said, “What’s a barbecue doing in our front yard?”

“What?” I asked.

After seeing the barbecue inside our gate, I went straight to the computer to review my security video. Unfortunately, the homeless guy returned while we were enjoying Arizona sunsets over the long weekend.

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Arizona sunset.

I am now waiting for the police to show up, for the third time, to report the intruder. I have him on video over the weekend trespassing, peeking in our bedroom window, and trying to break through the garage door. I don’t know what else to do.

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Here’s the homeless man who thinks he owns our house.

Do you have any suggestions on how to get rid of unwanted guests?

 

What does it mean to “parent for success?”

randk 8In The Patch for Hartford Connecticut, I ran across an article called Parenting for Success! by Daniel BlanchardIt made me reflect on my own parenting and what I valued at one time had absolutely nothing to do with successful parenting at all. Here’s the opening of Blanchard’s article:

What does parenting success really mean? What about the whole child? Find your answers here!

So, what does parenting for success look like and what does it mean? Does it look like a little league MVP trophy sitting on their shelf above their perfectly made bed? Does it mean that our children get straight A’s in school? Does it mean they play the piano in a way that melts all of our hearts and reminds us of how precious music and children really are, and how we can’t live without either one of them? Nope! Nope! And NOPE!

Successful parenting is parenting the WHOLE child, not just the parts that we want to. It’s not our place as parents to paint our kids into a corner by making them do things that we like to do, or at least used to like to do when we were younger. It’s not fair to expect our children to be an imitation of us, or even a new and improved version of ourselves. We need to push our egos aside and do what’s right for our children, instead of what’s easy, comfortable and familiar. In the end, we need to help our children become better rounded, authentic, versions of themselves by helping them develop whatever part of them comes out on that particular day.

Yikes. This hit home. I was very concerned with straight As, valedictorian status, fast swims — and yes, piano. I was thrilled listening to my son’s piano and sat nervously at his recitals. But, those things didn’t mean my kids were successful, nor did it make me successful at parenting. What matters more is my kids are kind, considerate, not selfish, aware of those around them and compassionate. I can’t say I had a hand in all that. I don’t know if it was nature or nurture — or a combination of both.

I’m proud of the people they are today. I’m no longer focused on their immediate successes or accomplishments — whether it was getting to the next level swim meet or now, getting promotions at their jobs. I want most of all for them to be happy and secure enough to have caring and loving relationships.

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Here’s a bio of Blanchard, the author of the Successful Parenting article: Daniel Blanchard is a New Britain Schoolteacher who is also a bestselling and award-winning author, speaker, educator, and TV Host. Learn more about Dan at: www.GranddaddysSecrets.com.

What does “Parenting for Success” mean to you?

 

Teach your kids these 10 skills — before college

After my son left for college, I realized that I was negligent preparing him for life. Yes, he had good grades. Yes, he had the right “stuff.” But he was seriously lacking on a few life skills. I spent time teaching my daughter the basics before it was her turn to leave. She was better prepared for the daily tasks–although that doesn’t necessarily mean life won’t throw you some bumps in the road.

 

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My son giving his high school graduation speech.

“He tried college a couple times. It just didn’t take,” a dad of one of my son’s friends told me last night at the grocery store.

Next, I got a call from a close friend, whose happy-go-lucky daughter checked herself into a campus hospital, because she felt so overwhelmed and out of control.

Another friend told me their son quit after one semester after too much partying and not enough studying. Yet another mom left on a rescue mission to help a child in need.

What the heck is going on with our kids and college? My own son struggled to find his way his freshman year.  

All of these parents, myself included, believed college was the best and only choice for their kids.imgres-1

Maybe college isn’t for everyone? Maybe we did too much for them? Maybe we didn’t let them fail often or enough?

I’ll talk more about why kids are struggling in college on another day. And if we have an epidemic on our hands.

But, first, I want to share basic things kids need to know before they leave for college. I was often surprised at questions my son would ask me during his first year at college. I’m going to make sure my second child checks off every item on my “top 10 things kids need to know before going to college” list.

  1. Banking skills. Know how to write a check, make a deposit face-to-face with a teller, fill out a deposit slip, and use an ATM card for deposits and withdrawals. Balancing a check-book falls under the banking list.
  2. Laundry. Have your kids do their own laundry so they know how to sort white and colors, hand-wash, hang dry, and fold–and what it feels like to be out of clean clothes. The clean underwear does not appear by magic! imgres-5
  3. Cooking. Teach your child some basic cooking skills like scrambling eggs, making spaghetti, baking a chicken, steaming vegetables, and cooking rice. 
  4. Grocery shopping. Just like clean underwear, the food in the fridge doesn’t appear out of thin air. Teach how to make a list, look for coupons, find sale items, and learn how to read unit pricing on shelves.imgres-6
  5. How to get to and from the grocery store. This may seem obvious, but I’ll never forget the phone call I got from Robert: “Mom. I’m at Costco and how do I get home with cases of water, yogurt, and Top Ramen on my bike?”  Hmmm. Good question.
  6. Budgeting. If your child hasn’t worked at a job and you provide their basic necessities, they lack budgeting skills. My son got his first paycheck working a summer retail job. The check was for $175. He bought his girlfriend a dress for $110 and spent the rest on dinner for the two of them. Very romantic, but not practical when he needed to eat the next week and month.
  7. Theft. At college, thieves are everywhere. My first week of college, I hand-washed some sweaters and hung them out to dry in the bathroom. Within minutes — gone. I had a bike stolen from my sorority storage room — and a locked bike stolen when I used a restroom during a ride around Green Lake. My son’s laptop was stolen when he left it in a study area in his dorm. Make sure they have “find my laptop” activated and never leave anything unattended! Don’t use a chain or cable lock for your bike — use a solid bar type. 
  8. Professors. They set aside office hours and only one or two students bother to stop by per semester. They are thrilled to help and meet students face-to-face. This can help for future referrals, references, internships — and grades. Have your kid meet with each professor at least once, every semester. It can’t hurt!images-2
  9. Cars. Basic things like checking tire pressure, oil and water levels, changing tires and pumping gas. Maybe they won’t have a car right away, but at some point they will and car maintenance is not an instinct. It’s a learned skill.
  10. Learn to say no! College means hanging out with friends, listening to music, parties, dances, rallies, job opportunities, football games, intramural sports, going out to eat, etc. Studying is priority number one. Learning to say no will help your kid stay focused.
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My daughter with Waffles.

What other essential life skills would you add to the list?

 

New study: more screen time leads to lower brain development

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My daughter.

A new study published in JAMA Pediatrics is startling! Who knew that screen time more than an hour a day could disrupt a toddler’s brain development? Here’s a story from CNN written by Sandee LaMotte called MRIs show screen time linked to lower brain development in preschoolers with the new findings.

Here’s an excerpt:

(CNN)Screen time use by infants, toddlers and preschoolers has exploded over the last decade, concerning experts about the impact of television, tablets and smartphones on these critical years of rapid brain development.

Now a new study scanned the brains of children 3 to 5 years old and found those who used screens more than the recommended one hour a day without parental involvement had lower levels of development in the brain’s white matter — an area key to the development of language, literacy and cognitive skills.

Higher screen use was associated with less well-developed white matter tracts throughout the brain.

“This is the first study to document associations between higher screen use and lower measures of brain structure and skills in preschool-aged kids,” said lead author Dr. John Hutton, a pediatrician and clinical researcher at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. The study was published Monday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

“This is important because the brain is developing the most rapidly in the first five years,” Hutton said. “That’s when brains are very plastic and soaking up everything, forming these strong connections that last for life.”

 

There needs to be more studies to verify these alarming findings. But, we’ve known for years that too much TV isn’t good for our kids. It seems like common sense that staring at a smartphone or tablet would be just as bad as TV. Our kids need to be active, reading, and engaged with other people to stimulate their brains. Here’s an interesting quote from the story:

“These findings are fascinating but very, very preliminary,” pediatrician Dr. Jenny Radesky wrote in an email. Radesky, who was not involved in the study, is the lead author on the American Academy of Pediatrics 2016 guidelines on screen use by children and adolescents.

If it harms our kids’ brain when they are toddlers, do you think hours of screen time every day is harmful at any age? I find it hard to believe that once a child passes the magic age of five that it would be okay to let our kids stare at screens for hours on end. The article quotes a doctor who says to increase our kids brain power they need to read, juggle and learn an instrument. All of this at an early age may show positive results when they get older and are in school.

The article had some guidelines for parents and tips:

What parents can do

“It can feel overwhelming to think that our every parenting decision impacts our child’s brain development, but it’s important to also see this as an opportunity,” Radesky said.

“There are parent-child activities we know help children’s development: reading, singing, connecting emotionally, being creative, or even just taking a walk or dedicating some time in our busy days to laugh together,” she added.

The AAP has tools to calculate your child’s media time and then establish a family media plan. Basic guidelines are as follows:

Infants:

No baby under 18 months old should be exposed to screen media, other than video chatting with friends and family, the AAP says. Babies need to interact with caregivers and their environment, and not be placed in front of media as a babysitter.

Toddlers:

By the time a baby turns 2 years old, they can learn words from a person on a live video chat and some interactive touchscreens. The chief factor in facilitating a toddler’s ability to learn from baby videos and interactive touchscreens, studies show, is when parents watch with them and reteach the content.

Preschoolers:

Children from 3 to 5 years old can benefit from quality TV shows, such as “Sesame Street,” the AAP says. A well designed show can improve a child’s cognitive abilities, help teach words, and impact their social development.

It’s important for us to get off our own screens and be present with our friends and family — especially our kids while they are young. Kids learn from interacting with us.

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My son.

What do you find most alarming about this new study on brain development and screen use?

Is defending your kids a sign of snowplowing?

I wrote this story two years ago, looking back on how I would jump in to defend my kids when I detected the slightest wrongdoing against them. This was my tendency to hover, helicopter and be a snowplow mom. I don’t think my own mom was aware of most of the troubles I was going through–let alone fight the school, principal, teacher or coach over them. She let me handle things by myself. The only time I remember them getting involved was when my brother got suspended for his long hair, which touched the collar of his shirt. Somehow, after that suspension, the entire high school’s dress code got changed and long hair was allowed.

When they were young.

I was always a stickler for what was right or wrong and I never shied away from addressing any issue. I would go to bat for my kids whenever I felt they were being slighted. Looking back, I see that is a trait of helicopter parenting and I might have done more good for my kids by letting them fight their own battles.

Here are a few battles I took on when I thought my kids weren’t being treated right:

I wrote an email to my son’s AP History teacher to complain about his grade. He was .05 off an A and I felt the teacher should round it up. I got a note back explaining that if he were to round up my son’s grade, he’d have to go back and do the same thing for every other student in his grade book who was a fraction off the next higher grade. (Not a bad idea, I thought!) My son was being passed over for his school’s nomination for the coveted National Merit Scholarship award because of the B, but he lived through it.

When I felt a coach was picking on my son, I made an appointment to complain about it, only to find out that he had earned the “coach’s award” for best attitude and effort. That surprised me and I’m embarrassed about that meeting to this day.

When my daughter was given five days of after-school detention for forgetting to bring the photocopy of Christmas song lyrics to music class, I complained that the punishment was over the top. In fact, other kids were given two nights detention, so there was a definite crossing the line by the music teacher—in my humble opinion.

There are countless other incidents where I went to battle for my kids. I do believe I taught them the difference between right and wrong and that they should stand up for themselves. At least that’s what I told myself at the time.

I couldn’t understand why other parents would stand by and let bad things happen to their kids. I do now. Sometimes it’s better to keep your mouth shut and shrug your shoulders. I’ve found that some of the things that would have bugged me to no end, will soon disappear on their own within a few days or weeks. By making an issue out of little things, they can turn into big ones and burn a lot of energy and create angst.

My daughter complained to me last night that during a meeting with students on a group project, the guys were complaining that all the women coming forward about sexual harassment were “just looking for attention.” That infuriated my daughter to no end. I asked her if she was going to put up with it or wanted to go to the professor or counselor and complain. She decided to let it go. She’s a week from being done with the class and just wants to get through it. I told her I would stand by whatever she decided.

When my son received a letter telling him he was kicked out of school during the summer after his freshman year for bad grades, I was horrified. But, then I stood by and watched him research his options online. He wrote a letter to contest the decision and got hospital and doctor records to substantiate his unfortunate circumstances of an injury and surgery which caused too many missed classes. He was let back in without me doing a thing. After that, he earned As.

Me and my boy.

One thing I know about parenting is all we can do is try our best. It’s been my goal to raise kids who know the difference between right and wrong and will try their best as well.

What do you think about parents fighting battles for their kids? Are they helping or hurting them by getting involved?

Is It Wrong to Take So Many Pictures of Our Kids?

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Waffles stopping for a smile and pic.

What will happen to children whose parents snap pictures of every moment of their lives? And post them on social media? There seems to be a whole lot of mugging going on and kids know how to pose from a wee age. Even my daughter’s pug is quite the poser.

My own kids are grown and flown and they are so thankful that Facebook and Instagram weren’t around to document every momentous occasion. We didn’t have cell phones with cameras during their early years, either. So, to get pictures, I had to lug around a real camera and drop film off at the neighborhood photo store. Of course, I tried to make up for lost time when I did join FB and had my iPhone with built-in camera. I’ve written about this subject here and here.

On a recent trip to visit my kids, we did a lot of sight-seeing in the Bay Area. We went to Sutro Baths, Lake Merritt, Berkeley Marina, Coit Tower and walked around many neighborhoods. I tried to get pics of my kids, and my son refused to cooperate. My daughter said, “Just get it done! One and done!” or something like that. But he kept refusing and said he wanted to enjoy the moment, not pose for pictures. Here’s the one pic I got of the four of us at Coit Tower:

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In an “Ask NYT Parenting” article called Is It Bad to Take So Many Pictures of My Kid? a mom from Bangkok asked this question:

I take photos and videos of my kid all the time. She loves seeing herself on the screen. Will this affect her sense of self and make her too image-conscious in the future?

Here’s part of the answer by Christina Caron, parenting writer for the New York Times:

Parents, like most people in the digital age, are relentless photographers. We’re rarely without a camera, so we document nearly every moment, accumulating thousands of images of our children.

But sometimes there’s a nagging worry, much like the one Ms. Kirati described: Should we be taking so many pictures? How should we use them? Will our children become more self-conscious or, worse yet, start to value a photograph over an experience?

According to developmental psychologists and other experts, taking thousands of pictures and videos of your children isn’t necessarily concerning. What matters is how parents go about recording or photographing their children and the context in which those images are shared.

With that in mind, here are a few things to keep in mind when documenting your child’s life.

Don’t obsess.

It’s natural for children to want to look at images of themselves, said Philippe Rochat, a professor of psychology at Emory University and director of the Emory Infant and Child Laboratory. “There’s nothing to worry about,” he said.

Yes, we all take a lot of pictures. And our children will take a lot of pictures, too, of themselves and others. That’s not going to change anytime soon.

“I think that we can slow down the trend, but it’s unstoppable,” Dr. Rochat said.

“My advice to parents is that you live with it,” he said — but don’t obsess over it. Do encourage your children to think about how and why we take pictures.

Instead of preventing children from taking selfies, for example, you can take selfies with them, Dr. Rochat said. As parents, you can use those moments to start a conversation about the kinds of photos your child is taking, the image your child is trying to self-manage and how that image can affect others.

When parents are the ones behind the lens, they also ought to reflect on what they’re projecting to the outside world and the impact their behavior has on others.

Constant documentation can translate as being “self-centered rather than kid-centered,” he said. “Parents need to be aware of that, of how much they promote themselves through their kid.”

Her answer addresses fostering a healthy self-image and respecting your child’s privacy. (If you want to read the rest of the article, click on this link.)

When my daughter went to college, she was no longer keen on me posting her pictures on Facebook. She told me more than once to not post anything of her — and if I did — only with her permission. She also told me not to accept any friend requests from her college friends, who were busy scouring FB accounts to find pics from the awkward tween years. Little did I know those photos would be used to tease my daughter online! That’s something to think about before posting any pics that we find adorable. Our kids have some rights on how their images are being used. That being said, I’ll post some really adorable pics of my kids at a couple months old and age three that will really embarrass them!

 What are your thoughts about taking tons of pictures of your kids? Do you think it has any lasting effect on their development?