The Scales

Communicating effectively with others is the key to success. I want my son to get comfortable speaking in front of others so this year I encouraged him to enter a speech competition through his school. 

He worked hard on it.

As parents we all suffer from delusions of grandeur regarding our clearly exceptional progeny but between the two of us, I had no expectations that he was going to win. I just wanted him to participate. I was fully prepared to just celebrate the achievement of his participation.

But then? He was given a red ribbon with “Excellent” emblazoned across it in gold letters. 

At first I was overjoyed. In my day, a red ribbon meant that you placed second. Excellent meant that you did pretty damn good.

Did he really do so well? 

During our practice he struggled with speaking too fast and was not making good eye contact. Was it possible that he listened to me? That he took my advice to heart? To be honest, that would have meant more to me than the ribbon itself.

Eventually I was given his judging forms. There were three judges. Apparently in this private school league they only score as Good, Excellent, or Superior and the kids are not ranked into places at all. Color of the ribbon? Yeah. Meaningless.

WTF?

Two out of the three judges gave my son a Good. Only one gave him an Excellent. From the judges’ notes, he fidgeted, stumbled, had to be prompted, and did not make eye contact. They gave him an Excellent ribbon for that. We worked on all of those things but it was his first competition and he is a first grader so I am not surprised or embarrassed or upset with his performance. I am so very proud that he was brave enough to get up there in front of strangers.

But how can I reinforce to my son that hard work pays off when mediocrity gets him an Excellent rating and a red ribbon? How can I make the point that he should listen to his mama’s advice about eye contact? How can I help him work through rejection and loosing and the unfairness of life while in the safety of childhood before he becomes a fragile adult who is devastated by the realization that the world does not in fact hand out participation trophies? And what about how this demoralizes and minimizes the kids who really did perform exceptionally well? They deserve to feel the full glory of their achievements, don’t they?

I just don’t understand. 

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107 thoughts on “The Scales

  1. I’ve heard this often enough, and now I am experiencing it too. My daughter is in kindergarten and they don’t have a study course, exam, ranks…And what the hell are participation trophies????? What do they convey? That it’s great the kid came?

    Liked by 4 people

  2. I’m old-school on this too. I think it sends a bad message for everyone to get a trophy. In life, you win some, you lose some. There’s no ribbon for almost getting a job or for almost buying that house. Encouragement is vastly different than entitlement.

    Liked by 6 people

  3. I’ve heard this idea discussed – that if you remove the grading you will remove a lot of unnecessary pressure on the kids. They are doing this in my granddaughter’s High School. They don’t have percentages or A,B,C,D,F grading just the 1,2,3,4. I agree with you that the kids that excel and put a lot of effort into their projects don’t have a sense of achievement and the ones that don’t give a darned don’t give a darned. It’s a classic no win situation. I think it is just too easy to mark them that way and it’s a cop out for the teachers.
    Leslie

    Liked by 4 people

    • I was touring schools today and one of them was grading like that, as if the numbers would soften the blow of real grades. Kids are so much more resilient than we give them credit for. They can be quite strong if we just let them.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. That’s the very reason that we have state tests. Universities had no idea what the grades meant. If a student got a 4 was that equivalent to an A? What is an A anyway when many teachers don’t give homework or don’t require that you do it. If you fail a test, you can take it over as many times as you want until you get it right. Teachers are leaving the profession in droves!!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve spent a little time delving into this topic as well, as my daughters have encountered this on some levels and are not so far from leaving the home. Simon Sinek did a TED talk a while back on the topic and how it impacts these kids as they grow up and enter the workplace. Here a recent discussion I found very interesting:

    https://www.google.com/amp/www.glennbeck.com/2017/01/09/accomplishment-builds-self-esteem-not-participation-trophies/amp/.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Work should be rewarded, and trophies for showing up are absurd.

    I frequently work with young temps, and in their late 20’s and early 30’s, they STILL expect a trophy. They give me poor quality docs often and do not appreciate it when they are sent back to correct them.

    It is a huge problem with consequences whomever came up with this idea didn’t predict. 😟

    Liked by 4 people

  7. The lament of every parent who intends for their kids to grow up and be capable of thinking and doing for themselves, to fight for what they want in life, to be capable of setting their own goals, make mistakes and learn from their mistakes…..I could go on. The ‘system’ in place today is set up to be like the ‘fun’ parent – you know how that works – mom said no, go ask dad. You spend time and effort working with your children on something you think is important, and because you weren’t there to give the evil eye to the ‘fun’ parent – they went ahead and undermined all your work and effort. I’m fortunate my kids went through school when they were still handing out homework and grades.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. I’ll never understand it, either.
    I didn’t order my kid a participation trophy, so the coach did. Why? It’s one of those things that’s lost on me, and many in my demographic.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I know that it was started with the best of intentions. No one intends to screw up kids but dang if there isn’t really good stuff out there now showing this doesn’t work so why does it persist? Why did it take so long for doctor’s to start washing their hands even when it was clear that not doing it was killing people? Sigh.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Hmm, I hadn’t thought about that, although I do remember in classical cultures, the prof talked about Hippocrates or was it Aesculus? and the spike in wellness due to bathing… I got an A in that class. Must have been a freebie 😉 lol

        Liked by 2 people

  9. I don’t get it either. In my opinion it does more harm than good.
    Maybe it stops these crazy competitive parents who live their lives through their kid. Nah, they’ll still be overbearing.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. I wonder what your son thought about what he did well and what he could have done better. It would have been good for him to get some simple (first grade level) feedback on this and a certificate of participation. Sounds like YOU did a good job, Mom.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. He is in First Grade and he is supposed to make speeches? God save me from this education system. You don’t see anything wrong with this picture? He is in First Grade. My kids were just learning about school in First Grade. God help us all. I would not worry about a perfect performance. That a First Grader could get up in front of a class and could talk is an accomplishment. Of course, it is not going to be college level.

    Liked by 2 people

    • It was a memorization and recitation situation, not a persuasive or informative speech. He memorized a passage. When I was in school, we memorized poetry and such even in first grade. He has not done that so it was a great experience.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Did you describe that in the post? I must have missed it about reciting a poem. I still think you do not need to worry about evaluating his performance as if her were much older. The awards were a bit overblown for sure.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I was not specific about it because it was a Bible verse, in truth. Three verses. Some people are very opinionated about other’s faith and I did not want that to make everyone loose sight of what I was really trying to say about the experience: make feedback meaningful. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Well memorizing verses sounds a bit more manageable but still I think the expectations were pretty high for the age group. I have noticed with the new common core standards that younger children are now expected to learn stuff that 3rd or 4th graders used to do. It is an accomplishment for a first grader to get up in front of class and recite even if not perfect to adult standards. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • It IS an accomplishment. If it were just a participation thing, I’d have been OK with that. But to reward at a higher level than deserved… that really bothers me. My kids are doing things I was not doing until 4th grade. I don’t know if that is bad or good. What I do know is that I really struggled with public speaking as a kid and I don’t want that for my own kids if I can help it. That being said, I don’t want to push my kids too hard, either. If it is not fun, that defeats the purpose. He had fun, so that part was a success. 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

      • Well, the kids might not be corrupted by the reward because they are just starting to learn and don’t really understand it completely. It is nice to give them recognition but it did seem a bit over the top. I think it would be normal for a first grader to struggle with public speaking. It just feels too young to expect a high level of performance. It is good he had fun.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. It was only this past year that Little Man received a trophy he had earned and was proud of. The participation trophies from sports — nice, but he couldn’t care less. The trophies for winning his school’s science fair and spelling bee — pride. The trophies for All-Stars and winning Player of the Game during the current season — pride. Sometimes I wonder what the point is past t-ball age when the kids seem to know it doesn’t mean anything.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. I’m with you on this. Once they’re out in the big world, reality could come as a shock. Also, I don’t likr the kind of message that ‘superior’ sends. If they dont like competition, maybe it would be more meaningful to congratulate them all for their efforts and give feedback on improvements for next time…

    Liked by 2 people

  14. I’m sure these people mean well but this is crazy. It’s good to introduce the subject and practice of public speaking, but everything doesn’t need to be a contest. Teach, practice, give feedback (accurate), rinse and repeat.

    But, if you introduce the concept of a contest, run it fairly and let the chips fall where they may. Because that’s how life will be after school is over.

    Liked by 3 people

  15. What about the children? That’s always the question. More and more adults in this country want children sanitized for their protection, like a motel toilet. They forget that failing drives people, including children to success. People forget that in a not so distant past, children would raise siblings and work on farms to aid their families. Children and teens can be more capable than our current society realizes. Being overly coddled or told their great when they haven’t done their best, Will lead to another generation of college kids who can’t make a doctor’s appointment without mommy, can’t survive failing an exam without antipsychotic medication or who are 20 years old and cannot tell if penetration took place during naked petting. Sorry if I’m too harsh, but I’m trying to raise someone who can function in society, so I am passionate about this subject.

    Liked by 3 people

  16. You learn more from losing the Little League game, or even getting your butt kicked after school, than you’ll ever learn from a participation trophy. I see the first ones in the workplace now. They have no idea of the consequences of their actions. They tried and failed, and expect employers to be happy they tried. It’s tragic when the very first lesson has to come from an employer to an adult employee.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. Hubby and I were just talking about this a couple of days ago. Kids don’t learn to cope with losing, or not being chosen for a team anymore. They don’t learn to fail and try again. How is that going to prepare them from the reality of life?

    Congrats to your son however for having the courage to get up and try.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I definitely don’t think something should be called “Excellent” if it isn’t actually excellent, and I agree that participation trophies given to everyone diminish any trophy’s value. As for educational systems, however — the idea of having no homework, no grades, etc. — I think a good question to ask would be: what do the studies say? Are there longitudinal studies? Have there been comparisons as to the success of different systems? And how do you define success anyway? Is it by the numbers on a person’s paycheck? What outcomes do you use? (I don’t have the answers, just thinking out loud.)

    Liked by 3 people

    • It would seem that at this point we would have a better grasp of what really works or does not work than we appear to have at this point. Personally, I’d rather my kids didn’t have any homework at all at this point in their academic careers…. it is so disruptive to our lives for what seems to be so little gain. But that is anecdotal. 😉

      Liked by 2 people

  19. I have a toddler that already throws fits when she doesn’t do something right. She’ll be 2 years old next month. I’ve come to the conclusion that teaching styles today is different then when I grew up. I’m not sure what I would do in all honesty if my daughter received a participation trophy/gift and yet she made mistakes or lost at something?

    Do you tell him/her that the participation trophy is meaningless? Do you try to have a sophisticated conversation with a child? It’s definitely a catch-22. If the teachers didn’t give out the participation ribbon or trophy to everyone to begin with and only the winners, then you could discuss what your child needs to do in order to improve.

    I don’t know what I would do, but I do know that my daughter is smart and knows when she makes mistakes and she throws a fit when she doesn’t “get it right.” I bet your son probably does understand the difference as well. There’s no parenting manual, sometimes we don’t want to be too hard on our children. While other times we worry that they’ll grow up spoiled and entitled thinking things will just be handed to them easily.

    Liked by 2 people

      • OK, different story. It sounds like the league organizers might be parents rather than teachers, sort of the way team-sports-for-kids get developed and managed, only with an opposite philosophy ( encouragement for all vs. select-the-best). But I still think it doesn’t matter at age seven. If parents really are running this league, you should get in there next year and argue for honesty in the award system. If the thing is run by teachers, it reflects a widely accepted pedagogical theory, the whole community of schools has a problem.

        Question: are these parochial schools, by any chance? I attended one aeons ago, when they believed in work as its own reward. Today, with dedicated but underpaid teachers, principals who attend workshops in educational theory, and pastors whose schools are facing competition for enrollment — you may find less rigor than you had hoped for. But if the benefits of religious formation are important, then the “happy face” tone early on could offset concerns about challenge and honest feed back.

        used to work in one

        Liked by 1 person

  20. Way, waaaay too much to say on this and its stupid late! So… one sentence? 🙂
    There is a time for everything, easing kiddos into life is one thing and developing an ‘I am good at everything and need not improve my skills’ outlook on life, is the other side if the scale. (ok two sentences)
    Finding the perfect fit/balance for every child, between encouragement and idealism.. is, well.. something really only the ones who know them pretty well can do. (three.. sorry. )
    Balancing out rhe crappy messages and influences the recieve from the world is simply a constant minefield, if only we could make the world function how we believe is best. 🙂 I guess our best bet is teaching our kids to function .. against all odds. Tell him.. in other words.. that it’s bullshit… when you know he is ready to hear it of course. He will get it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for commenting! Perhaps I am overreacting. He does have plenty of years to lose and do poorly at things. I just hate that a good opportunity for a life lesson got wasted! 🙂

      Like

      • Oh no, not overreacting at all. Simply processing and paying attention to your childs needs. 🙂 Villages used to raise children within common structures agreed upon. When we feel our dearest ones are in jeopardy as it almost seems another herd is leading them, we react. thats our job! All im saying as encouragement at the odds of the systems of the wider community being in agreement with our own, is that you ARE paying attention… so he will be fine. (bloody hard to always see and believe that when the world creeps in ever more into how we wish them to grow to face it. )
        Have a great lesson filled weekend! Gotto love those lesson giving opportunities. (they can be so hard to fit in in a busy life ey.)
        Oh and, most welcome, it was a great and relateable read!

        Liked by 1 person

  21. As an educator and parent of a 19 and 16 year old I totally agree with you. The only way to build resiliency in our children is to allow them to stumble and fail. If you get an award for everything then the award doesn’t really mean anything. Having a challenging goal to work toward is great learning experience.
    I also believe it is essential to start building internal strength and intrinsic motivation. How does your son think he did? It is important to start having conversations where he rates himself and has a chance to reflect based on his own standards instead of the standards of others.
    I am a much stronger person now that I don’t seek the approval of others all of the time. I wish I had learned this at a younger age.
    Just some thoughts. Thank you for bringing up this important conversation.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. I’m not a parent so I don’t have experience of What It’s Like For Kids Now, but I remember being a kid and learning that failing, messing up, doing something daft in front of an audience etc were painful at the time but ultimately valuable experiences. Even as a neurotic, anxious perfectionist I can appreciate the value in learning that it’s OK not to be amazing at everything and not being afraid to give it a shot and see what happens (even if you end up coming last, shrugging your shoulders and going off to try something else that you’ll rock at).

    Liked by 2 people

  23. I don’t really understand this modern thought that everyone is a winner. Disappointment is a large part of our future lives and aspiration is too. A happy medium would be a small pin for being brave enough to compete but only one winner.

    Liked by 2 people

  24. Learning to speak to groups and giving presentations is harder for introverts. Fail hard a few times and have someone to give honest feedback and you get better at it.

    I have crashed and stumbled a lot. After a while you just do it…

    Liked by 1 person

  25. All you can do is be there for the ups and downs..help celebrate and praise and hold them tight when they fail …give them the best advice you can…..and only ask them to do their best…I believe raising my kids was one of the hardest experiences I have every done….xxxkat

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Pingback: Writing Links 4/10/17 – Where Genres Collide

  27. Well I’m okay with young children receiving recognition for their efforts, even if a few demerits are earned. But if you’re looking for a sport that recognizes only the best then try gymnastics. Lol. Talk about a sport that criticizes everything and recognizes only the best–yep, that should prepare kiddos for adulting.

    😉

    In reality the every kid gets a trophy award has seeped into work environments, which was always a pet peeve of mind. Awarding mediocrity means acceptability of a lower standard. Not acceptable in a profession, but kids really need a safe environment to learn. So my thought: your son’s ribbon is well earned. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  28. Without getting into a long and involved story, i was raised through 13 of my most formative years on a traveling carnival in the days when a carnival was what it was originally meant to be. Part of that meant that usually the only people (aside from a very few fortunate souls) who were awarded any prizes for their efforts at the games were folks with “special needs”. This goes back to the fact that carnivals were founded by this same group of people in the middle ages, who couldn’t find any regular work in the cities of the time. They thus banded together, and traveled from town to town, challenging the “normal” people to try and achieve success at one of their (rigged) games, that the special needs folks could make look so simple (knowing how they were rigged). My point is, whenever a person, of special needs or not, would win something on the old-style carnival, it was a big deal, with lots of whooping and shouting, and usually a very happy child, spouse, or partner. Once the government stepped in, however, insisting that we give away “a prize every time”, all that excitement vanished, as did all the joy and happiness. People want to work hard for what they receive, and when they achieve something through their hard work (at whatever age), I personally think they deserve the recognition that should come with it. If there are no losers, then there are also no winners, and there is no longer any reason whatsoever to keep score.

    Liked by 1 person

  29. One of the current presidential candidates in France did a brief stunt as Secretary of Education. He wanted to abolish grades, as grades are discriminating and demoralizing. 😦 Fortunately he was sacked before he could implement it. 🙂 And fortunately he is so low in the polls he doesn’t stand a chance as President. 🙂
    Don’t take it too hard about your son (how old is he?) Just keep on doing your best for him to grow. He will. 🙂
    Eye contact? Normal. There are techniques. The best class I ever took in Business School was Oral expression. Not Finance, not Marketing, not Accounting. Just how to speak in public. Then I had a refresher later from a Theater guy. When time comes, put your son in a theater (or is it theatre?) class. Not to be an actor. To learn how to speak in public. It works. I’ve given presentations to audiences of 500.
    (An apology for such a late comment: my in-box is swamped)
    Be good Victoire.

    Liked by 1 person

  30. I hear you. This is across board from little children to adult. I was just told the other day that I need to let my training registrars know that they are doing a great job. As far as I was concerned, they were doing their job. A GREAT job means they are performing above their training level. Making sure your patients don’t die after surgery and patients are prepped for OT is part of their job. There’s nothing exceptional about it… Or am I just being a hard-ass surgeon again?!?!

    Liked by 1 person

  31. Haha. I’m not a parent as yet but this took me back to the days when I was in school and had received a participation certificate for something..I think it was a first… I remember how that was considered an implicit insult, a polite taunt among the parents since they simply took it as – hey your kid didn’t win. Or so I perceived as an eight yr old from the reaction I got at home. That was the 90s. And that, I feel was my entry ticket into this meritocratic rat race that only seems to value real trophies.
    We don’t need trophies to establish us as winners and nor do we need participation certificates to save us from feeling like a loser. What we need to be given after any competition or exam are those judges notes you got later…personalized reviews

    Liked by 1 person

  32. He’s what 5 or 6? I doubt he appreciates the nuance of a ribbon color or has any understanding of the standards imposed on him Let him fidget, Mom. Let him learn who he is first, not what someone else wants him to be. He’s too young yet.

    Liked by 1 person

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