Author: Ken Wolf

Disclaimer: I don’t have kids. I have nieces and nephews, my friends have kids, and my girlfriend has kids. I certainly hear and read plenty about kids, but it’s not the same as parenting. I was a kid, but that was long ago. I’ve never been a kid in today’s world. A world with some different nuances than a few decades ago.  

A Cincinnati suburban high school recently announced they were doing away with valedictorian and salutatorian honors. Grade based accolades will still be given, but they will be of the Latin version found at most colleges. Cum laude style. The decision was based on the spike in suicides and its direct relation to increased depression and anxiety. Ease some of the students’ stress by getting rid of unhealthy competition.

My first thought was, ‘Makes sense. Good for them.’ But I started thinking about it more and reading folks debate the topic and my feelings became more mixed. Somebody made the comment, ‘This crap is the same as participation trophies. We’re getting too soft.’ And that was the theme of most people’s reaction. I understand both sides. It’s a tough issue. Competition is part of life. With competition comes stress. Not all stress is bad, but stress out of control can cause serious problems, including death. So what is the answer? I don’t know.     

The numbers are astonishing. Youth suicide is up tremendously. Depending how you break it down (time frame and age group), I’ve seen anywhere from 30% to 70% in the past couple decades. Suicide, depression, and anxiety are up considerably across all demographics, but there’s something especially awful when kids suffer. And it’s happening at younger ages. To complicate it all even more, kids who participate in athletics tend to be physically and mentally healthier. And doing well in school certainly isn’t unhealthy.   

We are a hypercompetitive society. We often take it too far. And it’s not like it stops when you become an adult. We need to be a mentally healthier people. I don’t know how anybody could debate that. But what do we do? We need to be more aware of mental health issues and on the lookout when a kid (or an adult) may be slipping. How can you tell the difference between a child who’s just struggling with the stresses of growing up and one that’s in real trouble? Often it’s not easy. Educate yourself. Set a good example when it comes to your own competitive nature. Don’t have a kneejerk reaction when a school or somebody tries to help the cause. Competition isn’t going anywhere.

Maybe participation trophies for the littlest of kids. As they grow older, I’m pretty confident in saying awards all around will be met with considerable suspicion. We need more appreciation for the process of competing. For getting into the arena and failing. And then getting back into the arena. A healthier attitude as a society about the battle itself, not just the winning and losing. We can do that, but still appreciate the winning and award it. We can respect and reward winning, but not have a win at all costs society.

Every generation thinks the generations after them are getting soft. That they have it too easy and expect too much. I cringe at some things with ‘the kids today’. But healthcare and education costs have grown exponentially. Political discourse is more revolting than ever. I respect the pros of social media and technology, but wouldn’t have wanted to grow up with them. Older kids saw the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression and its impact on their families. The middle class has been gutted. The environment is a mess. So, let’s cut the kids some slack. In many cases, they may just be more aware.......but not with their music.     

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