I think all the talk about participation trophies is bs, mostly because I saw in real-time how Conservatives in the US constructed the myth in the 80s and how it has always been used to attack both the idea that children should feel good about themselves about anything other than pushing around and policing other kids, and the idea parents should be good to their kids; while promoting the idea that kids were properly property that parents ought to be able to treat however they damn well please with zero outside intervention. But also because I frankly never saw the damn things to begin with. I saw plenty of trophies, and all the ones I saw were given out for perfectly sensible reasons, visibly appreciated by the kids receiving them.
BUT, having said that, I DO think there is a certain well-intentioned tendency in the parenting of securely middle-class parents
(can’t speak to other classes because this is the only parenting I ever saw)
of the Boomer and X gens that had some unintended negative repercussions, and that is the tendency to play down mistakes.
Let me lay a scene:
A child is doing something and they make a mistake. They say to their parent “I’ve made a mistake”. Now these parents, interpreting Dr. Spock’s advice through their own experiences of(almost invariably) having been raised by real assholes whose idea of “parenting” was mean-spirited insults and physical abuse and even worse, respond to this by doing the exact opposite of what they’re parents would have done, they Negate it. “No, NoNo,” the parent says, “it’s fine, it’s Fine! You’re doing perfect :)”
Now, what the parent THINKS they’re doing in this situation is building the child’s confidence in their abilities. What they are REALLY doing, though, is teaching the child to doubt their own ability to assess situations, and particularly their own performance. The child had an idea in their head of how things should have turned out, likely based on instructions. Things didn’t turn out that way and maybe they also realize they didn’t follow the instructions correctly. So they say, based on the evidence, “I made a mistake”. Yet the parent -from a place of kindness!- tells them they didn’t. So they learn that their judgement is flawed. Is it any wonder that kids constantly exposed to this grow up to be perfectionists, to NEED to know they’ve done everything possible in their minds to make something right because they can’t trust how they think or feel about it, who always ask for the opinions of others, particularly superiors, on how their work turned out before moving on?
Instead, I feel like they should have responded like this:
Kid: “I made a mistake”
Parent: “You think so buddy?”
P: “Why do you think you made a mistake?”
K:”Because of this.”
P: “Hmm, could be. What do you think you did wrong?”
K: “I think I did this wrong. I was supposed to do THIS, and I did this instead.”
P: “Hmm, well, that makes sense. But Even though you made a mistake, that doesn’t mean everything’s messed up.”
K: “It doesn’t?”
P: “Nope! We can fix it *optional head ruffle* :] *proceeds to troubleshoot the problem or start the project over again with supervision, to avoid the mistake together*”
This is just as positive, affirms the child’s judgement, teaches them to pay attention to and think critically about their feelings and thoughts and actions, and it shows them that mistakes aren’t this terrible and shameful thing to be avoided, but rather normal, everyday obstacles that can be overcome with dedication, a calm mind, and thinking things through.
There is an alternate to this that is worse. The child, while doing the project, is confused about something and asks for parental advice; the parent says “do it this way.” This way doesn’t work out, and the child says “I made a mistake” or “I did this wrong and it didn’t work”(because, of course, it’s a very rare child who will say to a parent “your advice was wrong” from the get go). The parent then says, “No no; it’s fine, it’s Fine; it’s perfect: Everything is Perfect, you’re just worrying about nothing, don’t beat yourself up about it.”
This is worse because, not only does it do all that the first example does, but it also teaches the child that the parent expects to be treated as if they’re omnipotent and incapable of making mistakes. This has a whole host of other, terrible, repercussions all its own: the child now feels responsible for their parent’s emotional state, they will be anxious over questioning the parent in other, possibly more urgent, situations, they will learn that one shouldn’t admit mistakes and errors leading them to react negatively to them -and moreso to being called on them- in future, and it will make it difficult for them to question authority figures generally, since humans naturally conceive of authority figures through familial/parental metaphor.
And of course, both bad -but well meaning!- responses put the child in a position of having to argue for their mistakes and flaws, against your “defense” of them as something they can never be: a perfect person. AND of having to go against your position if they want to repair the mistake to their liking. These are really shitty positions to put anybody in, let alone a kid.
I mean, I get the impulse, I really do, and obviously there are much worse things parents can do to their children, but it’s really no surprise that a gen raised this way would display the perfectionism, self-doubt, preference for outside input, difficulty finishing projects, and anxiety over performance in formal settings that so often get associated with Millennials.