Does it Start with Participation Trophies?
I never trust the advice a childless person offers about raising kids. Yes, that seems logical, but many of our child “experts” have never birthed, raised, or dealt with kids in any way. A child is a major responsibility, and after having four of them I consider myself extremely lucky. First, most of, my kids turned out to be perfect (canned sitcom laughter) and second, knock on wood, I have never had to turn one of my kids in to the police.
What happened at Oxford High School in Michigan this past week was caused by the confluence of a severely troubled child of fifteen years of age, his enabling parents and an inept school which, like most, is incapable of managing a worst-case scenario. As this case unfolds, we will hear how each part of that linkage failed. There will be protests and lawsuits while the press lambasts the system and the people, but no one will even scratch the surface of a bigger problem –– participation trophies.
I am sure you are asking what trophies have to do with this case. Let me explain. There was a time when we preached, hell, even Vince Lombardi was alleged to have said, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing,” but he wasn’t the first person to say it. The statement should be attributed to UCLA Bruins football coach Henry Russell (“Red”) Sanders. This is not a recent quote, it’s from the 1930s when America was smack dab in the middle of two World Wars. Men were expected to be tough, to fight to win and, when facing a loss, take it like a man, congratulate the winner and get the off the field. In fact, the word champion means the last man standing on a battlefield.
Somewhere in the early 1980s, we started believing that everyone had to be appreciated and acknowledged for their contributions, even when losing. Someone came up with the grand idea of giving everyone a trophy to help their self-esteem. Great.
I was puzzled when seeing the kid’s room of a neighbor stuffed with of trophies and ribbons. Looking closer it became clear that young Johnny Smith was never on a winning team. Some of the ribbons said 9th or 11th place but most of the trophies were participation awards. Much to my surprise, the largest of the plastic medals said “Best Kid.”
Now I have no gripe against building up kids’ self-esteem and helping them develop confidence to go out into the world, but encouragement must never be based on half-truths or lies. I remember the day when one of my kids was singing in the car and I said, “Well, you’ll never have a singing career.” Mean? Perhaps, but that truthful line has been repeated back to me several times over the years and I always felt terrible. One might lecture you should never say any negative thing to a child, but I would hate my brilliant kid wasting her time trying to force a music career when her forte was writing.
I once coached a Little League baseball team and after a 20–0 loss said jokingly, “Well, that was worst game I have ever seen.” My joke didn’t land and one of the mothers complained, “When you tell them it was the worst game ever, they hear ‘You are the worst players’ and they take it hard.” I apologized to her and later in the season, when we won a big game, I told the kids they were the best. None of them went on to play high school baseball, but at the end of the season they all got participation trophies.
I have no doubt that James and Jennifer Crumbley are terrible parents. They gave Ethan, their fifteen-year-old child, a gun for Christmas. What kind of parents do that? What kind of mother sends a text to her son warning him not to get caught after he was found reading about ammunition on his phone while in class? Jennifer sent a “Don’t do it” text to Ethan after learning there had been a shooting at his school, and James rushed home to see if the gun was still there. The complicity of these parents only deepened when they withdrew cash from their bank account and holed up in a Detroit warehouse very near to a Canadian crossing point. What were they thinking? I am sure the border guards would have caught them because they were under an arrest warrant.
Maybe these parents deserve a participation trophy for trying to save their own butts, but they have scored an F in child rearing. Their lawyer said the gun was locked up. Okay, did Ethan have the key? How could Jennifer and James not have known there was at least some possibility precious Ethan had the gun in his backpack? I’m sure many questions will be asked about why little Ethan’s backpack wasn’t searched, but it’s too late for those he murdered.
Ethan was sent back to class, not because the parents wanted to help him but because someone would have had to watch him if he was sent home. Bad parents pass the responsibility of raising their kids to administrators, teachers and coaches, and bad parents keep telling their kid how great he is and brag about bonding with him at the shooting range. What are we teaching our kids?
Jennifer Crumbley is all about the glorification of guns. She even wrote a letter to former President Trump thanking him for fighting for her right to own and carry a gun. I am sure the former President bears no responsibility for the shooting, but he was an enabler of violence and a false prophet in so many other ways. So, time to think. What should we do about all this?
Josh Hawley, the idiot Senator from Missouri, has suggested we go back to traditional roles and values of masculinity and femininity, but what the hell does that even mean? Baby fascist Josh wants a participation trophy just for being a man. Let’s all give him a little pat on the head for making things worse.
It’s time to get the sick kids to doctors, and parents need to be more critical of their offspring. Stop boosting them up so much they walk around thinking their shit doesn’t stink. Emphasize what they do well and make damn sure they understand what they need to deemphasize.
My father would have been enormously proud if I had become a star on my high school varsity football team, but that didn’t happen. At 5’9” and 155 pounds, all it took was a 250-pound linebacker knocking me on my ass to convince me that being beat up wasn’t worth a participation trophy. I read a book instead.
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Another book you have to read:
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