A ribbon for showing up.
I'll admit, I'm a pretty competitive person.
I've been this way ever since I can remember. I've always wanted the best grade, the highest score, to win the game, whatever.
But also, I always knew where I stood. I could win the spelling bee, no problem. But on my elementary school basketball team, I wasn't the best player. Heck, I wasn't even close. I played, because every girl needed to play so we would have enough for a team, but it was clear to me and everyone else I wan't particularly good.
And you know what? My self esteem was just fine knowing that.
From an early age, I knew what my strengths and weaknesses were, and I was still able to lead a fairly normal, productive life. Well, relatively speaking, I guess.
After I grew up and I became a bookstore manager who was in charge of hiring people, I began to notice an incredibly disturbing trend. There was an entire group of people about ten years younger than me who all shared the same kind of self-awareness. The common traits among these people were that they all thought they were the best at everything, they all needed constant feedback proving this, and they expected their consistently mediocre work to be called out as "special" on a regular basis.
It took me a long time to make the connection, but when I finally did, it became clear that these were the people who were among the first to fall victim to the shift in the American school system (and parenting philosophies, to be fair) away from calling out excellence and failing poor performance to rewarding mediocrity and giving everyone a ribbon just for showing up.
From what I saw, the results of this were pretty catastrophic. Here was an entire generation of people who thought, because they had all been taught that (at both school and home) everyone was equally special in everything. Everyone, from the highest scorer to the bench warmers got the same praise on the soccer field. Grades went from A for "excellent" to M for "meets expectations" and pretty much everyone got an M in all subjects. All these children believed that they were the best. In everything.
But of course, that wasn't the case.
Happily, my time managing this generation is over, but of course since I spend way too much time wondering about how my boys are being raised, I worry that this continuing trend of rewarding average performance will affect them as well.
Recently, I've been reading a number of articles that are calling for the ban on scoring kids' sports games. Instead, the focus is supposed to be on having fun and gaining new skills.
Those are wonderful things for kids to learn, of course. Of course.
But what about learning how to win graciously? Or learning how to lose? And what about letting kids figure out what their natural skills are, and letting them know where they have a aptitude and where they might need to work harder?
What's happening to these things? Aren't these things my kids need to learn, too?
I'll be the first to admit, it's my natural inclination to want my kids to have it easy, to be happy, and to excel in things. But I'm not so sure I'm willing to give in to it all the time if it means they will never learn those other, just as important skills of losing sometimes, winning graciously, and figuring out early on what they're good at.
When my boys do mediocre work or have mediocre behavior, whether it's at home, at school, or in an extracurricular activity, I want that to be rewarded with an "I think you can do better" instead of a "Great job!" so that they can learn to push themselves to be and to do better.
When they are good at something - really, really good, I want them to know that they are good at it so they can see where their talents lie and so that they can learn to be gracious to others who have different strengths and aptitudes.
And when they are not up to standard, I think they need to know that, too, so that they can work harder, get better, become successful.
It's a scary thing as a parent to realize that I might be the sole person willing to point all these things out, and it's a nearly impossible balance to praise enough, correct when necessary, and teach these boys of mine to grow up into reasonably self-aware and well-adjusted adults.
This parenting business is HARD, and I'm never going to know if I'm doing it right.
And for a competitive girl like me, that's the hardest part of all.