You’re special! And so are you, and you, and you…

Worthwhile, or BS?

My daughter had to clean out her room – I mean, get everything out – before we painted it last summer. It was a huge job – she’s had that same bedroom, and the same furniture, same stuff on the walls, for years, so decluttering was long overdue.
On top of one box, was a blue ribbon she got one year at Field Day. This was one of the boxes that was headed for the garbage.

How could she just throw out a blue ribbon? Is she that un-sentimental?

I remember the day she brought it home. She was in third or fourth grade, and stuck it on the mini-bulletin board on back of her door. “You got a blue ribbon?” I was a bit surprised. You see, when I was in school, Field Day was fun for a lot of kids. A day out of the classroom, where we got to run and play and do sports. To me, it was sitting outside in the hot sun (it was always close to the last day of school) being bored out of my mind – on top of being an all-day reminder that I suck at anything athletic. You know, the slowest time in the 100-yard dash, last one picked for any team, guaranteed to strike out in softball and get hit with the dodge ball every time. My husband, on the other hand, is very athletic. But in that area, our daughter is more like me.

So her getting a ribbon in field day surprised me, until I took a closer look: “Participation,” it read.

"When everybody's special, no one is!"

“Everyone who didn’t win something got one of those.” She shrugged. “It’s stupid. One of those things they think is good for our self esteem.” She said “self esteem” in an air-quotes enunciation. LOL! Even at age nine, my daughter had already developed a healthy BS-detector.

Because that’s pretty much what it is. When I was a kid, only the winners got ribbons. If I’d gotten one, I’d have known it for what it was, too. Kids aren’t dumb. Most of them know this stuff is supposed to make them feel good, but it usually ends up just being patronizing. I don’t think not winning any Field Day ribbons gave me any major self-image issues. On one hand, it’s important to recognize the ones who do have special talents, especially when that may be all they have. My husband struggled in school, but he excelled at sports. If he’d gotten a ribbon for “participating” in a spelling bee (which he’d have probably been the first one eliminated), he’d have called BS, too.

What do you think? Does everyone deserve to be “special” or is this just needless pandering that everyone knows is BS?

17 Responses to \

  1. Everyone got green participant ribbons for field day at my school, but it definitely didn’t feel special!
    I believe that you have to play to win and that often it’s the experience that’s more important than the end result–but that green ribbon didn’t teach me that! Ha ha.

  2. In some cases, recognition for participation actually does mean something. Barely over a week ago, we all got to see just how much merely participating in an organized protest could sway enough elected officials to change votes and minds. In that, you definitely need to keep alive the sense that yes, participation counts at the individual level.

    But field day? Young kids like to take home the trinket, but once theylose the value of receipt, it’s time to stop bothering.

  3. It’s all about balance. I worked in a school that was VERY competitive, in everything. They had charts on the wall showing who finished their morning math problems the quickest and correctly. Things like that.

    I saw how it affected some of the kids and didn’t like it.

    At the same time, the new trend of “everybody’s special” is not great either. There is an SNL sketch that made fun of people that think they can do anything – when in reality, certain things in life do require skill and talent that not everyone possesses.

    I think there can be balance in giving kids a feeling of worth without making them all the same amount of special.

    Adults, too. 🙂

  4. Coleen – exactly! The experience is worthwhile, but getting an award for just being there – Especially when it’s required – isn’t something that’s going to matter the next day.

    Athena – I think the more valued participants in the SOPA/PIPA protest were the big, loud ones – Google, Wikipedia,, and the like. I didn’t do the blackout because I didn’t know enough about the issue until after the fact.

    Amber – I think too much competition is just as bad (if not worse) than too little. My daughter has a class like that, and all it does is cause friction and pettiness IMO. I didn’t see that SNL skit, but I see those people all the time! The “everybody’s special” trend only enhances their delusions!

  5. I can’t remember if I got ribbons for just showing up at Field Day or not. I know I loved the day itself, even though I sucked at any competitive events. Being outside was awesome and reward enough for me. I didn’t expect to win anything. I don’t know why suddenly they think every child must be patted on the head and told they win, even when they’ve done nothing to earn it. The value of hard work and a job well done is pushed aside in the name of…what, exactly. I’ve no idea. I think the best growth and test of character is when we fail…not necessarily when we win. Winning is great, don’t get me wrong. I’d love to win the lottery especially. But, I think I learned more by NOT winning. And not having someone give me a ribbon for it. /shrug

  6. I hate the idea that everyone is a “winner”. What is the big deal about helping kids realize that you just are not going to be good at everything?

  7. So true, Carrie! This just creates a lot of deluded – and disillusioned – teens. Thanks for your comment!

  8. That’s patronizing and kids know it for what it is. Nobody is great at everything, and everybody is great at something. Find what the kid is great at then give them a ribbon. Then it will mean something.

  9. I agree with Prudence. That said, I also believe to give an award just to make someone feel better about themselves doesn’t always work either. It’s the earning of the award and the feeling of accomplishment that comes from that is what’s important. 🙂

  10. Absolutely, Karen and Prudence! Kids know when it means something – and when it doesn’t. Thanks for stopping by!

  11. When my kids were really little, I liked them getting participation awards. When you are 6 years old, just finishing each soccer game and the soccer season is a big deal. But at the point that my kids could read the scoreboard, they were done with that. They only wanted a trophy that meant something. I agree. Life is not going to hand you a reward just for showing up. You have to accomplish something. Interesting thoughts, Jennette.

  12. I agree that it is about balance. I do hate when I see all kids get participation in athletic events, but only the kids who excell at academics get awards. That is an unfair double standard. And participation isn’t a big deal at field day. It’s mandatory. But, for a running a marathon, you better give me my participants medal!

  13. Julie, I can’t remember if stuff like this mattered to my daughter when she was really little or not. But you’re right, it doesn’t take long before they catch on!

    Emma, I hadn’t thought about academics, but you have a good point! And definitely for something where even participating takes work, or competitions in which not everyone can participate. The marathon is a good example – I got a nice medal for doing the 10k in the USAF Marathon, and they do mean something!

  14. The kids always know if it’s truth or something else we’re feeding them. They know who’s the top student, best athlete, etc etc. and they know it within weeks of their first day of calss. trying to fake that is a waste of time, IMO

  15. In our book, it’s patronizing with a capital P! Kids catch on fast and they know BS when they see it. And for some, constant rewards for doing nothing are what they come to expect and can make them lose interest in trying. IMHO, both children and adults appreciate the rewards of their labors much more when they really mean something.