Can Parents Be Saved From Raising Performance-Based Children?

Margaret —  September 22, 2012 — 21 Comments

What is a trophy child?

I recently had the opportunity to interview Ted Cunningham about his book, Trophy Child: Saving Parents from Performance, Preparing Children for Something Greater than Themselves. This "anti-tiger mom book" tackles the idea of vanity parenting, what happens when our culture's obsession with performance leads parents to form expectations for their kids based on the world's standards.

Margaret: What exactly is a Trophy Child?

Ted: A trophy child is the direct result of vanity parenting. When mom and dad use the child's attributes and accomplishments to impress others, the child is on display.

Why do you think raising a Trophy Child is prevalent in our culture?

Parenting motives have changed over the years. The shift started in the 80's with the kid-centered home. Parents began shifting their style to be more encouraging, nurturing, and praising, bombarding kids with excessive “atta-boys,” gold stars for every paper, no-loser competitions, no-failure-allowed assignments, participatory medals and ribbons, big moments on the stage or field, and plenty of opportunity and privilege.

The shift toward the kid-centered home has many roots, but divorce is one of the leading causes of the kid-centered home and the raising of trophy children. Parents elevate their children to adult or companion status, and they require their kids to bear a burdensome emotional load. The kid-centered home is also a reaction to the way we were raised. Our moms and dads were strong in their desire to prepare and launch us into the world, and at times it was interpreted as harsh.

What are three signs someone is raising a Trophy Child?

1. You are creating and choosing environments for your children to succeed, rather than preparing and teaching them to succeed in environments they (and you) cannot control. Creating environments for our kids to succeed makes sense to most parents. It feels loving. We pick schools, churches, leagues, neighborhoods, and family friends based on this principle. Is this the best approach?

2. You accelerate the childhood milestones (birth - 10 years old), and delay the adulthood milestones. For the first 10 years or so we push our kids with programs like My Baby Can Read, potty training by first birthday, accelerated reading, gifted programs, and launching their professional sports career in kindergarten. Our children become conditioned to run, run, run. Then at age 10-13 (tween years) something happens. Our children begin to differentiate and separate from mom and dad. They pick their own clothes, friends and activities and mom and dad freak out and start to apply the brakes. This is when we start delaying the adulthood milestones. We pushed our kids for 10 years, now we want them to slow down and not "Grow up too fast." I think the teen years are more about a parenting crisis than a teen crisis.

3. You have turned your child into your companion. There are 4 ways in which this happens. First, it can happen in the home where the parent has a buddy to participate in sports and hobbies. Second, it happens in a home where a strained marriage pushes one parent or the other to give extra attention to the kids. Third, companion parents sometimes reside in single-parent homes where the child takes on the emotional burdens of a spouse. Fourth, it happens in the home of the single child where Mom and Dad step into the role of siblings rather than the role of parents.

What are four tips you'd give to parents who want to break the cycle of raising driven kids?

1. Check your motives daily. Why do you want your kids to be so successful? What is your definition of success? Is your child an extension of you, or do you you see them as God's workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works?

2. Desire your child's relationship with Jesus to be the priority, not you. When Jesus is the priority relationship, it changes everything. My child is no longer about me or what I want for them. I get to spend my days discovering along with them the good works they are to do.

3. Allow room for loss, hurt, pain and conflict. Don't bubble wrap and helmet your kids for everything. Be most concerned about their character, not comfort. Our character is developed through difficulty. Take a step back from the playground and allow your child to develop those critically important life negotiation skills without interference from a helicopter parent.

4. Take a break from Facebook. Constantly updating your status with the accomplishments and attributes of your children, is exhausting for you and your friends.


Trophy Child by Ted CunninghamTed Cunningham is the founding pastor of Woodland Hills Family Church. He absolutely loves and enjoys being married to his wife, Amy. They live in Branson, MO with their two children, Corynn and Carson.

Ted is the author of  Fun Loving Youand Trophy Child and coauthor of four books with Dr. Gary Smalley: The Language of Sex; From Anger to IntimacyGreat Parents Lousy Lovers; and As Long as We Both Shall Live. He is a regular guest on Focus on the Family, Life Today, and Moody Radio. He is a graduate of Liberty University and Dallas Theological Seminary.

Pick up a copy of Trophy Child, today.

21 responses to Can Parents Be Saved From Raising Performance-Based Children?

  1. Because we all want to look good in front of others. I’m going through the teen crisis right now!

  2. This book would look great on my shelf! I’d be very proud to own a copy. 🙂

  3. As a dad of two who very much loves excelling in my fathering skills, I would be ecstatic to receive a copy of this book! Thanks for the opportunity!

  4. I think today’s society is more about me and my kids and look what I’ve done than it is about teaching our children or grandchildren about how to live with what they have been given and to be kind and gracious to others, to develop a relationship with Jesus Christ and to think about others before they think about themselves. More and more it seems like even in Christian circles, the focus is on “what I have, what I’ve done”, etc. We need to teach our children good Christian morals.

    I would like a copy of this book to share with my girls and because I had the privilege of watching Ted grow up in our church.

  5. I think parents often want for their children what they didn’t have such as success, popularity, acceptance, etc. and the parents then live vicariously through their child. The parent finds value and pride in their child’s successes.

  6. I agree that there’s the vicariously living aspect at working in parenting trophy children. But I also think the flip side is true too – we fear that if our children aren’t successful, that it reflects poorly on us. And heaven forbid our children should fail because then we’re the ones who are failures. I say “we” because I know I struggle with the desire to show off my kids and their accomplishments and am mortified by any bad behavior my kids display. As much as I’m trying to break free of these types of cultural pressures, I still struggle sometimes with my motives in parenting.

    This sounds like a great book that I need to read. Thanks for featuring it!

  7. I love the 4th tip about social media. It’s very exhausting for everyone to try and compete with their kids. I love some stories about their kids, but often I just scroll over those updates, because I don’t want to get dragged into that. Social Media has sometimes the effect that we all become really good at pretending everything is fine, because everybody else seems fine.
    Sometimes taking a break is a brilliant idea. Maybe go and throw a frisbee! 🙂

  8. I heard Ted Cunningham touch briefly on this topic at a marriage seminar earlier this year. It’s something I’ve paid more attention to in my family since. It’s somewhat natural as a parent to want the best for your child and don’t want to see them have to struggle. However, we miss the fact that sometimes the struggle is what’s best for them. Just by looking at my own life, I know that the struggles are where I grow the most. Why wouldn’t I want that for them?

    Thanks for the giveaway.

  9. when your priorities are to impress and gain glory for yourself, having a trophy child, wife, or husband helps gain you mileage toward winning the comparison war.

  10. I would really benefit from a book like this. I have three wonderful children who I want to grow into lovers of Jesus.

  11. Learning to teach our kids to think and become independent navigators of life is more difficult, less glamourous and very messy and requires parents to be adults themselves who are secure. In a world where growing up is optional, we have laid the indepence of our children on the alter of our need to be needed and significant in their lives! I would LOVE to review this book on my blog!

  12. Would love to read. See so many competitive parents – any tips to not fall into the trap.

  13. I think Vanity parents really believe that their children are a reflection of themselves. So it is imperative to them to reproduce themselves. What is so sad about this style of parenting is it is teaching children the lie that their parents believe… that what people think is of the utmost importance. If people like you then you are worth something, valued. We all know that isn’t the truth. We are called to raise children up in the way (their unique bent) they should go.

  14. Many parents, myself included, commit this “crime” because often times we are trying to make up for the lack of self confidence that we have. It is easier (for a small while, at least) to mold our children into everything we believe to be successful….everything that we could have or should have been. Some of us don’t even know how to identify who we are unless we first identify ourselves as the parent of __________.

    We need to improve our way of bringing up a child. Ensuring that the Lord is our leader and not the approval of.the world

    This is in drastic need of.improvement

  15. looks very interesting!where do you find these great looking books? I’m always looking for new insights in parenting to encourage and challenge.

  16. Trophy children become so because parents see them as an extension of themselves. Having been in elementary education all my life, I would love to have this book to add to my collection for reference.

  17. This looks like a fabulous book. I haven’t heard of it before. Good find!

  18. I think vanity parents expect that others will judge us by our children’s successes and failures. I think some us want more for our children than we had, so we put them into situations that they’ll excel. And when we brag on our kids we expect that we’ll get a pat on the back too.

  19. This definitely would make a great book for my resource collection for teaching and guiding parents the reasons and why not to get caught up in the making of their children a trophy.

  20. Would love to use this book for our newly formed parent book club at church. My goal is to form a group where parents with older kids mentor parents with younger children. Though the days have changed the stages are very simular and we can all learn from each other. We are in search of resources to use in the group.


  21. As a mom to three boys in school, I could definitely stand to read this book. I am also the coordinator of our MOMSnext (moms of school aged children) group at our church. We are always looking for resources to share with our moms at our meetings. This would be excellent for our group!!

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