Stop Blaming Millennials for Participation Trophies

By August 24, 2016Education

Millennials get a lot of guff from older generations. While there are many things to pick on us for, as with every generation, when it comes to Millennial bashing, a “come to Jesus” discussion needs to be had.

Young Americans born between the years of 1980 and 2000 are constantly being barraged for our love of “participation trophies” and our inability to be as independent as our parents and grandparents would have liked.

While more personal responsibility is certainly needed from all individuals there is an illogical inconsistency that occurs every time a Baby Boomer or a Gen Xer insults Millennials. We are products of the way we were raised, and unfortunately for our generation, most of us were born during the rise of helicopter parenting.

According to Business Insider, there were four main events that led to this new, heavily dependent form of parenting. For the purpose of this discussion, we will highlight two: The abduction of Adam Walsh and the self-esteem movement.

Many of us remember the horrible abduction and murder of seven year old Adam Walsh in 1981, which gave rise to his father’s show America’s Most Wanted. What few of us remember is how this tragic event impacted the way “children of the 80s” were raised.

While this wasn’t the first publicized kidnapping, it was the first major incident to take place in the era of the 24-hour news cycle. Cable television created a space for CNN and other news outlets to fill every hour of the day with news.

As the news of Adam’s abduction spread across the nation, parents became paranoid of letting their kids out of their sight. Gone were the days when kids were sent out into their neighborhoods to play freely and unsupervised and told to be home by dinner.

For many of us, myself included, this constant supervision made the adjustment to adulthood difficult. For our entire lives we were told to stay close and be wary of everyone. It is no wonder so many of us have had difficulty adjusting to the real world.

The second  most important driver of the rise of helicopter parenting was the self-esteem movement. During the 1980s, parents were told to overcompensate for their children’s shortcomings and give us praise constantly, even if it wasn’t warranted. This ushered in the phenomenon of the participation trophy, where showing up and doing what was expected of you was suddenly a major life achievement.

But while Millennials get blamed for this practice, it wasn’t our generation who was responsible for this. As children we were not tasked with making sure each of our peers had a trophy or a medal or a ribbon. Our parents, teachers, grandparents, community leaders, etc. did that.

Preoccupied with sheltering us from rejection, which is a commonality in the real world, we were told that everything we did was worthy of recognition. It wasn’t. However, as we kept receiving awards for doing nothing, many grew to expect this as a natural occurrence in life.

As mentioned previously, each individual is responsible for their actions. That being said, the millennial generation is trying to overcome two decades worth of parenting methods that have made us ill equipped for adult life and then we are chastised for this.

Before condemning young Americans for the way we were raised, I implore older generations to take a look how we got here in the first place. I would also encourage the millennial generation to parent, teach, and mentor wisely as we begin to have children and embark on our careers. The habits and traditions we establish now will affect the next generation for years to come, as we have all experienced first-hand.

Author Brittany Hunter

Brittany Hunter is a Staff Contributor at Generation Opportunity.

More posts by Brittany Hunter
  • Alicia

    You might want to fix the word “site” to “sight”. Feel free to delete my comment afterward. Thought this was a great article, and I wanted to get your back. 🙂

  • Erin Maynard

    BULLSHIT do many Millennials “remember the horrible abduction and murder of seven year old Adam Walsh in 1981, which gave rise to his father’s show America’s Most Wanted.” As the author points out, the kidnapping happened in 1981, meaning that the *very* oldest of the Millennials were barely toddlers when that tragedy happened. That event was certainly one of the defining moments of a generation, but it certainly wasn’t your generation, Ms. Hunter. It was mine. Gen X. And while we are on the subject of Gen X, if you want to “blame” a generation for participation trophies and the like, go for it. I agree with you. It’s NOT your generation’s fault that you’ve been cossetted and told just how special you all are. But it’s NOT my generation’s fault either. The Millennials are those born roughly between 1980 and 2000. Gen X covers approximately 1965 to 1981. The Baby Boomers are from 1946 to 1964. Guess who was coming up with all those useless ribbons and medals and accolades? The Boomers, because only the very oldest of Gen X had kids who became Millennials. My daughter squeaks into the Millennial cohort by two years, but I had her when I was relatively young. Generations are still roughly 20-25 year blocks, but people aren’t having children that way. The fault lies squarely with the Boomers, who lived through Woodstock, the Vietnam War protests and bra burning — out of which came this warm and fuzzy idea that kids are just the most precious things ever who need to be bubble-wrapped and praised until they can’t function anymore. These Boomers may have raised both Gen X and Millennial kids, but how they did so differed greatly. As more pop psychology rumbled and grumbled about our snowflakes, parenting styles changed. So be mad at what this spun-sugar crap has created. But try not to blame your older brothers and sisters. We didn’t do this to you.

    • Rachel Rose Velez

      I’m from the tail-end of this generation (born in 1995), and I definitely had a helicopter mom (Gen X, born in 1968). Still do. Granted, she was working for the NYPD for a decade at that point. She had me and my brother sheltered, him more so than me because he has low functioning Autism, making sure we were always safe. Now I’m a 21-year-old who still lives with her mother and, despite being told to be more independent, doesn’t want her daughter driving her car to practice driving in, and wants her to save up to buy her own car, all while being asked to pay for food for when she doesn’t feel like cooking. The closest thing I have to actually being an adult is having my own job and paying for my own cell phone bill. That’s it. I DID go to college for an Accounting degree, which SHE pushed me for, and am currently taking the year off after my mother threatened to sue my college for not taking my accommodations (high functioning Aspergers) into account when it comes to testing and tutoring… despite my condition having nothing to do with the fact that there were literally no tutors available for accounting. I flunk Accounting 101 and Business Calculus twice, and she still doesn’t think it’s because Accounting isn’t my calling. Why does she press for me to take accounting? She wants someone to balance her books for her real estate firm. I turned down the offer because I don’t she wants someone who needs 3+ tries to account correctly. Besides, after lying about working for her on my resume (also HER idea), I grew more wary of working as an accountant. Then again, her own mother barely raised her at all, and she had to go to school, go to work, AND raise her first child, my sister, at the age of fourteen. So I don’t blame her for constantly sheltering me from the real world (and I never got the whole participation badge thing either. I just see it as an insult.).

      • Dean Smith

        Strange, last night’s posting was taken out. I don’t remember being rude ‘course, I had had a couple. Lol I think you’ll make it successful just hang in there! My wife believes all Germans have a form of Aspergers, ranging in the spectrum, and I’ve wondered if she’s right ’cause we sometimes breakdown on ‘what she said from what she meant.’ But to me, the Germans are world renowned efficient, so, Aspergers doesn’t have to be the problem. My wife just said your mom might have also been trying to ‘play to your strengths’ by pushing a field like accounting.

        But she earned her doctorate in nuclear chemistry even though she said she never really was accepted in society due to her condition. Hang in there! (She also just said i’m a weltschmerz – had to look it up.. see? How socially incorrect! :D)

        • Dean Smith

          Let me add that my wife is German because that statement looked a bit out of context without that information.

  • Christopher Rigby

    Here’s a thought: As a person who is officially a Millenial born in 81, why don’t people stop blaming previous generations for an upbringing and take personal responsibility to change the perception? It doesn’t matter if we received participation trophies or whatever other slam Gen Xers and Baby Boomers want to throw at us. What matters is our attitude. If we come across as entitled, then that’s our problem and ours to fix instead of living up to the expectation that all we do is whine when we don’t get our way. I did not personally grow up in a culture that embraced the idea that people should be fitted with helmets for everyday life and sheltered from everything because challenges are how we build character. Learning how to win graciously was important, but learning that you can and will lose defines who we are because we have to be able to bounce back with lessons learned. So, my challenge to a millennial griping and complaining that it’s the ones who brought us up that are the ones to blame is that he needs to be an adult and stop playing the victim because that’s all it is. Blaming our parents’ and grandparents’ generations is a sign of weakness and refusal to be adults responsible for our own actions and attitudes. Grow up.

    • Winnie Levine

      Thank You so much for your comment as I feel hardly anyone takes responsibility for their own actions anymore . Once you become an adult that is your job not to continue to blame everyone else..

      • IQTech52

        Yes, once you become an adult, it is your job not to continue to blame others. It’s not just millennials that need to stop the blame game. It is everyone.

    • Cobalt

      Well why can’t older generations take responsibility for raising the newer ones?

    • IQTech52

      I would argue that my generation needs to grow up as well. Instead of blaming each other, we should be working together.

  • Mr. Nice Guy

    I don’t know what 80’s the author grew up in. The 80’s that me and all my friends grew up in was hardly full of “unwarranted praise”. We were raised by a generation of many that were in the military and in a war like Korea or Vietnam. They were raised by those who survived The Great Depression and valued hard work and a “Can Do” attitude. It’s fair to mention that our parents usually prefaced or proceeded everything they said to us with “Dumbass”, but they didn’t reward half-ass effort or delusions of entitlement. Put on your Big Boy pants Millennials.

  • Shawn Peters

    As a Millenial, this blog post in of itself is disgraceful. It is a Strawman. Nobody is blaming us for the participation trophies, they are blaming us for being adults and wanting things we haven’t earned. Just like we shook off the idea of Santa Claus and the tooth fairy, we can shake off this narcissistic garbage.

  • Menotyou25

    Quick Question….. How can you claim to be part of the “Young Americans born between the years of 1980 and 2000”, yet also “remember the horrible abduction and murder of seven year old Adam Walsh in 1981.” That doesn’t compute.

  • Eddie Cruz

    I feel like people have moved on from racism and replaced it with this BS generational warfare. Yes there will be differences between people of different ages. SHOCKER. I’m so tired of this participation trophy crap. WTF does this argument even accomplish? There is no value. I can guarantee from the dawn of time the personalities of the negative stereotypes of millennials have been present throughout history, regardless of their “generation” The only thing this topic accomplishes is dividing people. What really pisses me off as being a “millennial” is I have been serving in the military my entire adult life and somehow I have to hear this BS stereotype that I expect everything and give nothing. I have earned all that I have and have lost brothers in arms that gave EVERYTHING. It’s a shame people have the nerve to label our generation with this lazy BS stereotype when most of us have literally been at war our entire adult life for our country. Not to mention a global war, and the longest war in AMERICAN HISTORY. People are different. Deal with it.

  • Katherine McChesney

    millenials are lazy, self absorbed, narcissistic, selfish and think the world owes them a living. And Ethel Kennedy is to blame for participation trophies where someone who does nothing, achieves nothing is rewarded for doing nothing and achieving nothing.

    This does not apply to Conservatives.

  • Dean Smith

    Yes, Brittany. I won’t blame your millennials for thinking participation trophies and entitlement are normal due to the fear and indoctrination of your parents if your generation won’t blame mine for thinking we should worship God and ‘If a man doesn’t work, neither let him eat’ due to the fear and indoctrination of ours.

    So, why don’t we all give it a break and look at the natural world not ‘network support’, hmm? Let’s grow up and quit being butt-hurt and then perhaps we can all agree on the principle of the first LAW of thermodynamics.

    You can’t get something from nothing.

    My children are excellent hard working millennials. Look to your own for excuses.