At Connelly Partners, we are continually talking to consumers in order to provide our clients with a much deeper understanding of their respective target audience. We spend hundreds of hours every year listening, observing, probing, and analyzing in the pursuit of unique insights that can influence brand and message strategy. And when it comes to understanding moms, no one knows them better than us. Seriously. No bragging. Okay, maybe just a bit, but it’s justified.
It’s no surprise that so much of what consumes the minds of moms has to do with their kids: what their kids are being taught, how society is shaping them and their expectations, and how moms can work with – or against – those forces to raise kids who are better prepared for the real world. Today’s blog entry looks at what society is teaching kids about competition and challenges parents, society and even brands to think about how we define and acknowledge success for our children.
Every Wednesday during the summer, my kids participate in a wonderful program organized by the local road runners group. They compete in three races against kids their age, ranging from 50 meters to a mile. The top three finishers in each race get a blue, red, or yellow ribbon, their names in the town newspaper, and bragging rights among their peers. It’s a really great night, week after week.
If kids don’t finish in the top three, they get a green ribbon. Like little Pavlovian dogs, their feet cross the finish line and their hands pop out, looking for a ribbon. Right now, we have no less than fifty green ribbons in our house. Every week I come home with a handful of them stuffed in my pocket. The kids won’t let their blue, red, and yellow ribbons out of their little fingers, but the green ribbons inevitably find their way to the bottom of my purse.
Why? Because even my kids realize that the green ribbons don’t mean anything.
We are training our kids to expect to be rewarded just for participating. Trophies for their gymnastics show, medals for everyone at the end of the soccer season, four second-place finishers and eight third-place finishers at an Irish Step competition, tie games every week at T-ball.
Participation is great. Encouraging kids to get out and be active is great. Building kids’ self-esteem is great. But are we teaching them that all we expect of them is to show up? What happened to winning and losing? Are we afraid to tell our kids that they aren’t the best?
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m competitive – really competitive. I like to win. I’d like my kids to win. But I’d also like them to lose. I want them to see that sometimes even your best isn’t enough, that winners are rewarded in ways that losers aren’t, that losing is frustrating and disappointing, and that losing can push you to do and be more. My kids may never win that blue ribbon – and that’s okay. What’s not okay is telling our kids at every turn that they’re fantastic and not asking them to realize their potential.
Losing is not just a lesson for the track or on the court; it translates to school, work, and life. You may not get that job, the girl or guy, or the house you want. And life will go on. It always does. We need to teach our kids how to be gracious losers, to learn from their losses, and to strive to do it better, smarter, and harder the next time around.
Then, when they finally do earn that blue, red, or yellow ribbon, it will actually mean something. And that’s the thing – they will have earned that ribbon. They will understand that real success is a result of sticking with something that may not be easy and pushing themselves a little harder.
They will understand that real success isn’t just showing up at the track.