Living in a prize-driven society, but why?


Try to think back to the time when you were a child — the trophies you were given for winning a basketball game or the bumper sticker your parents got for you being an honor student. And how about those participation awards? Oh, I’ve gotten plenty of those.

My elementary school used to have Field Day. It always happened at the end of the year after all tests were graded and homework was not being assigned (lovely time of the year, I must say). This day consisted of fun sporting games and obstacle courses. I was never the best at sports, so I would rarely ever win any games (except I did get second place once in a soccer game). Even though I would hardly win, I still received the “participation award.”

Thanks, but no thanks.

When all your friends come and ask you, “So, what’d you win?” because of the all the ribbons you are holding and you say “Nothing, but I participated!” it doesn’t make you look cool, trust me.

I would have been fine with not even getting a ribbon because by getting those, I did not feel they were well deserved. Our society has evolved into a prize-giving culture.  We are obsessed with giving prizes to everyone, even if it is not earned.

An article in TIME Magazine explains that the reason for this is “the desire to dampen overt competition in school classrooms was part of the self-esteem movement that started in the 1960s, according to historian Peter Stearns in his book ‘Anxious Parents,’ and it focused on building up children’s confidence and talents without being negative or comparing them to others.”

Many parents and teachers believe by giving awards to children, motivation to do well will increase. Kids will be happy with the results and will want to keep trying harder to do even better.

Organizations are huge when it comes to prizes for children. If a child is in a dance organization and he/she keeps winning prizes for each dance, the parents will want to keep their child in the company because they feel as if they are accomplishing something.

Many prizes are given just for these types of companies to keep their business going. With parents continuing to keep their child enrolled in the organization because of how supposedly well their child is doing, they see how happy their child is and are not going to want to take them out of it. The parents tell their friends to put their kids in this company which just makes it more money.

However, when children grow up to become adults, they are going to find out the hard way that awards are not always given out. I had this problem going into high school. In elementary and middle school, I was always rewarded for everything I did. But, in high school, I realized the competition was much harder and I was not just being handed everything anymore. I had to work harder to make myself known.

It is hard sometimes to keep motivating ourselves to do better even if there is no prize at the end. For example, many college students will only choose a major because they know they will get a good, well paying job from it, even though they might despise the type of work. It should be more important to choose a major, or anything in life, one has a passion for and just enjoys because (yes, this is going to end extremely cheesy) being happy is more rewarding than some piece of paper saying “good job.”

Christina Danno is a senior philosophy and English studies major as well as a copy editor at The Vidette. Questions can be sent to

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