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Dad Balks After Wife Wants To Have Participation Trophy Made For Son Who Placed 5th In Spelling Bee

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One of the biggest criticisms of the millennial generation is that they’re the generation of “participation trophies.”

The generation that can’t be simply okay with loss and no compliments.

And so going forward, it is a question of whether or not we want to keep participation trophies in the mix, and reward kids for their partaking in competitions rather than winning versus losing.

Reddit user Greedy-Entertainer-2 is opting to discontinue this practice for his son.  Unfortunately, this is a bit of a point of contention between he and his wife, who wanted to give their son—who placed 5th in a school-wide spelling bee—a participation trophy.

When his reaction caused an argument, he went to the popular subReddit “Am I The A**hole?” or “AITA” for feedback.

He asked:

“AITA for refusing to let my wife give our son a participation trophy??”

Our original poster, or OP, filled us in on the competition his son worked on.

“To be brief, my wife and I have a 12 year old son who is in 6th grade, he recently competed in a school-wide spelling bee.”

“Now I love my son very much and support him in everything he attempts, as does my wife.”

“He is quite intelligent and recently decided he was going to take part in the schools spelling bee that took place this last weekend.”

“He did great, there was 28 children that decided to participate, and now here is where my issue is our son placed 5th and was extremely upset that the 1st 2nd and 3rd place children all received trophies and he did not.”

OP’s wife then decided on the participation trophy.

“This is where my wife said she was going to have a spelling bee trophy made via third party without a finishing place engraved on it IE'”Congratulations in the X middle school spelling bee 2021!'”

“I told her I would absolutely not approve of this.”

“I told her I would explain to our son if he wanted a trophy that he would need to earn it, and that I would be more than happy to spend summer vacation doing mock spelling bees, helping him with his spelling, or whatever is needed if he really wanted to improve so he can earn a trophy next year.”

“I don’t feel comfortable with a participation trophy as I think it sets a bad precedent where you will be awarded for being upset you didn’t win.”

And she did not take it at all well.

“She is furious and isn’t talking to me currently as I told her absolutely not on a participation trophy.”

“Am I the a**hole?? I just want to work with my son over the summer to build his confidence so he knows he really earned a trophy and not just hand one over because he is upset he lost??”

Anonymous strangers weighed in by declaring:

  • NTA – Not The A**hole
  • YTA – You’re The A**hole
  • ESH – Everyone Sucks Here
  • NAH – No A**holes Here

Redditors agreed with OP’s approach.

“NTA. And respect for wanting to help your son so much and be an awesome dad. Participation trophies makes winning feel cheap, why put in effort if you get a trophy anyway?”

“It sets a precedent that there’s no point in practicing or being good at what you do since everyone will always ‘win’.”

“Real life doesn’t work that way. You’re not getting a participation trophy for failing to get a job…. As a parent you’re supposed to prepare your kids for real life and real life doesn’t hand out participation trophies.”~Mera1506

“Agreed NTA. I’ll preface this by making it very clear im not disparaging OP’s child, it is impressive and a point of pride that he not only placed 5th, but also had the confidence to compete at all.”

“Your son didn’t lose, he just didn’t win.”

“That said, I’m of the opinion that if you reward mediocrity the same as excellence then all you will strive for is mediocrity.”

“Again not targeting OP’s son and not calling him mediocre I’m just saying that if you set a president of rewarding him with the same level of a accolades as winning you’d be developing his young mind to think striving to be the best isn’t worth it as just participating is enough.”

“It can and likely will stunt his emotional growth going forward. Look, losing sucks, but at the same time I’m of the opinion that competition drives us to strive for excellence.”

“So, in my opinion anyway, weighing the pros vs the cons the bad would outweigh the good of giving him a trophy.”

“It would have a high chance stunt his growth and maturity for a momentary boost in his joy.”

“Trophies and awards should be a reward for winning, not celebrating losing.”

“The goal as parents is to teach our children and I assure you that getting a trophy for excellence is far more rewarding and ultimately better for your son’s development than coddling his feelings.”~BauranGaruda

“NTA. Losing sucks, missing out on trophies sucks – but as parents your job isn’t to make sure your son is 100% happy all the time.”

“It’s to turn out a good adult – and that means a hard worker, someone who doesn’t feel entitled to things, and who know how to be a good loser.”

“Being able to accept you didn’t win, swallow disappointment, congratulate and be gracious to people who did win, and dust yourself off and try again is a massive life skill and far more valuable to your son than the happiness a pretend trophy will get him.”

“That’s not to say you shouldn’t be supportive and proud of what he did achieve – just that he came fifth, didn’t get a trophy, and that’s okay.”~aitchbee

“NTA. A participation trophy from the organising body is one thing, a participation trophy from your parents sounds like a recipe for a spoiled child.”

“This is a perfect learning opportunity – it’s that feeling of having missed out on a trophy that could drive him to work hard, practice, and do better next time.”

“Giving him a trophy now means he has no reason to try and place higher in his next event. Stick to your guns on this one.”~sceponi46

Participation trophies change meanings as children get older.

“NTA.  Participation trophies have age dependent benefits and downfalls.”

“For younger children it teaches them the value showing up, being reliable, the value of hard work and how every member of the team is important.”

“But by the time children are 8-12 they understand and what trophies are for and it can be very frustrating for some who has won see the person who has lost receive the same reward.”

“You risk having a child end up going ‘why bother trying when those who haven’t still get the same?'”

“Those who do receive participation trophies are sent the message that they are entitled to rewards just for showing up and that the work and effort is not required which can lead to a whole host of problems.”

“A quick google search:“~kalkiki

“Whoo! Participation trophy hate thread.”

“In this case, NAH. You and your wife both want to do what’s best for your son. The idea that she wants to recognize his hard work is good, but getting him a trophy after the fact is not likely to help.”

“In general, I don’t think participation trophies ruin children’s motivation or teach them to be mediocre.”

“For younger children, they serve as great motivation to continue to work hard at an activity, and no one needs to even know who won a tee ball game, never mind award the kids differently.”

“But after a certain age (which varies by individual), they just stop having any meaning (except for that one commenter who was so traumatized by a participation trophy that they quit sports because they got one).”~cmlobue

“NAH. I agree with you that this is a silly idea, although I also think that society’s hand wringing over participation trophies is overblown.”

“I got some from a soccer team I was on as a young child, and I still grew up knowing the difference between that and actual prizes for winning.”

“But I think that your communication with your wife needs some work. I feel like this situation became a more acrimonious argument than it needed to be.”~ConsistentCheesecake

“It’s really useful to be comfortable with failure, a lot of adults never try new things because of fear of failure.”

“Emotional resilience and bouncing back is also useful. Remind you kid it doesn’t matter who won, he did really well and beat a lot of other kids then buy him ice cream not a fake trophy.”

“A great thing for kids to learn is ‘the only person you have to be better than is the person you were yesterday.'”

“There’s no point stressing out a kid about being perfect or the best or teaching them you have to be better than everyone else.”

“If they just keep beating their own score they’ll be much stronger and won’t be so worried about everyone else and therefore not affected by other peoples scores.”~South_Cantaloupe2156

Plus, doesn’t OP want to teach his kid to improve for the sake of improving rather than for winning prizes?

“NTA. ‘I won fifth place in a spelling bee, but I didn’t get a trophy. Instead, my mom made me one to show she was proud of me for participating.'”

“This is kind of a weird explanation to give someone who sees your trophy. Your son probably would know the trophy is kind of useless considering it wasn’t something awarded at the event.”

“You’re better off taking the kid out for a celebration meal or treat. It shows you acknowledge his effort and are proud of him without the false sense of show.”~Goody3333

“NTA. Participation trophies are the WORST. I had 4 sons. Sometimes you win. And hey. Sometimes you lose.”

“My sons were taught this at a very early age. You have to WORK and earn that trophy.”

“And sometimes it doesn’t matter how hard you work, you still lose because someone else is faster, stronger or is a better speller.”

“My oldest son came 6th in his district track meets 800m race. He came home with a participant ribbon, put it down on the table and said, ‘Hey Ma! I got a ribbon for being a loser!'”

“He’s 24 now and a great young man. Funny, he’s never lost his sh*t when he hasn’t come first.”

“Good on ya, Dad. He’ll thank you one day😊”~Perogalicious

“Nta. He may be bummed about his lack of trophy but he is 12 years old and i guarantee he’s smart enough to know a participation trophy is basically a pat on the head from mummy.”

“Working towards goals is a much better life skill than crying about not winning and hoping for a prize.”

“Your job as parents is to 1) love him and 2) prepare him for independence. Taking away all obstacles and disappointment does him a huge disservice and deprives him of safe real life experiences to learn from.”~sometimesnowing

“NTA based on the fact that this kid’s twelve. He should be old enough to understand how a competition works, and that not everyone gets a special trophy.”

“I’m guessing it’s your wife’s fault that he doesn’t have a great concept of it?”

“Taking him out for dinner is enough to reward him for placing so well (and he does deserve a reward for placing so well; he did great).”

“She shouldn’t be protecting him from failure like this – it’ll do him more harm than good. Failure is how we improve.”

“It’s a necessary part of life; not something that should be feared or avoided. If you never fail, you never have a reason to get better.”~LordofFullmetal

The participation trophies discourse that boomers usually throw at millennials is mostly overblown, but in this case, it could do more harm than good.

Let’s just hope OP’s son can keep his eye on the true prize—becoming a better speller.

Written by Mike Walsh

Mike is a writer, dancer, actor, and singer who recently graduated with his MFA from Columbia University. Mike's daily ambitions are to meet new dogs and make new puns on a daily basis. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @mikerowavables.