In an Instagram post that went viral this week, Steelers linebacker James Harrison tackled an often-controversial practice: giving a trophy to every child who participates in an activity like a sports game.
"While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do and will encourage them till the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they EARN a real trophy. ... I'm not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best ... cause sometimes your best is not enough, and that should drive you to want to do better," Harrison wrote.
The Instagram post has racked up more than 16,000 likes and also spread on Twitter, where users flooded it with comments, the vast majority in support of Harrison's position. Twitter comments include:
"Excellent PARENTING Mr. Harrison! A rare skill in parents these days."
"Everyone gets a trophy is creating too much sense of entitlement."
"Totally agree with you participation trophies are the demise of what they are for. Earn it."
Harrison's sons, who are 6 and 8, received the participation trophies at a camp run by former Steeler Charlie Batch. While not everyone supported Harrison's returning of the trophies, he didn't seem to get slammed by many people.
"Though I disagree with him, I have no doubt that he's a great dad and that his actions are motivated by love," one Twitter user said.
Should all kids get trophies just for participating, or should trophies be saved for winners? It may depend on the situation, says a local parenting expert.
John Carosso, a child psychologist with offices in Greensburg and Monroeville, says that giving awards to all children involved in an activity can be beneficial for some children with special needs. Just participating in, say, a sporting activity can be monumental for a child with a physical disability, and they should be praised for their efforts.
Otherwise, giving trophies to everyone can devalue the award — if everyone gets a trophy, kids don't appreciate it as much or feel motivated to work for an award, Carosso says.
"They know when they deserve something and don't deserve something," he says. "By and large, the idea of ... trying to reserve trophies for more prestigious awards for achievement is a very worthwhile pursuit.
"Kids are tougher than we think they are," Carosso says. "Giving a trophy for something that is not earned is something that is not appreciated."
Meredith Guthrie, 39, of Jefferson Hills, agrees.
"I think participation trophies are kind of ridiculous," she says. Guthrie has three kids: daughter Syd, 8, and twin boys John and Ronan, 5. "We shouldn't celebrate people for doing the bare minimum, but, instead, for excelling. Kids need to know that you only succeed through talent and, more importantly, hard work."
Kelly Buttermore, 35, of Leetsdale, has two sons — Chase, 9, and Ty, 8 — on their school's wrestling team, where every child gets a medal, but only students who place highly in matches get trophies. Both Chase and Ty, who each have won trophies, are over the participation medals and don't want them anymore, Buttermore says. They want trophies only when they earn them.
"I teach my kids that practice makes perfect and hard work pays off," says Buttermore, a hairdresser. "You have to work hard, and you have to earn it. "