On a brisk November morning, I kneeled down and looked at my scuffed sneakers and slightly too-short jeans. I ran my tongue over my braces and looked to my left, sizing up my competition. I was participating in my school’s annual Turkey Trot Run and, as a fifth-grader, I was finally able to compete. I can still see the kid who had sat next to me throughout elementary school, squinting at me as he said, “I’m going to beat you.”
As we waited for our cue to start, nerves fluttered in my stomach. When I rounded the last corner of the race, I realized that I was not only going to win the girls’ division but also cross the finish line first. As I breezed across the finish line to the sounds of my friends cheering in my ears, I was so excited about being first at something. Even better: I won a frozen turkey and got my picture in the paper. That memory still makes me smile, even 30 years later.
Now that I am grown and am raising my own children, I often think about that day when school awards season rolls around. It seems that these days parents are all consumed with their children receiving awards, and I’ve witnessed some pretty bitter behavior when a parent is upset that their child isn’t number one. The day I won my race, the kids around me didn’t complain that they didn’t get a turkey too. Other parents didn’t whisper behind my parents’ backs that their kid deserved to win more than I did. No one took away from my special moment and no one was selfish enough to presume that their child had been slighted because they didn’t win. We came, we raced, some kids won a prize, and we called it a day.
So when did we decide that kids who get awards for outstanding achievement should be shamed?
Recently, our middle school held an academic awards ceremony. Held by invitation only, the students invited were honored with awards for academic achievements as well as for displaying exemplary character traits. As soon as the invitations hit the mailboxes across town, reactions from parents of students who were not invited were swift and bitter. Complaints of unfairness, irritation over exclusion from a school activity, and frustration that their child was slighted were rampant on social media. Parents made disparaging comments about the awards, about the kids who were invited, and the teachers and staff who decided the recipients. It was a display of sour grapes that shocked me deeply.
Seriously? Complaining because our kids didn’t get an academic award is a thing now?
It’s bad enough that we’ve become a generation of parents who insists on fair play for all and the “everyone gets a trophy” philosophy. Parents argue with teachers over grades, fight with referees over bad calls, and demand that their child gets more time off the bench. We are helicopter parenting our kids to the point that they will be incapable of dealing with feelings of rejection and the agony over losing once in a while. How is this okay?
While I understand that there are kids who, for a variety of reasons, may never excel in a sport or achieve the highest grade in a class, can we all please agree that there will always be a child who is first at something? There will always be an MVP, a prom queen, and a valedictorian. And while, yes, in a perfect world, our child would be all three, that’s unrealistic. There will always be a child who is the star of the play because her voice is Broadway caliber or a boy who is headed to the Olympics because of his running ability. When did it become okay to diminish their obvious talents in order to make other kids feel better?
In the weeks leading up to the awards ceremony, the complaining didn’t die down. Talk of demanding the principal do away with the ceremony altogether dominated local discussions. It saddened me to watch as moms disparaged other kids’ achievements, and it cut me deeply because my son was one of the kids invited to receive an award. I am proud of his academic achievements and having other parents say negative things about a ceremony he had earned the right to attend was hurtful. By the time the big night rolled around, we quietly attended, and though I shared photos of him receiving his award, my joy was dampened by the complaining I saw in my social media news feed by parents who simply couldn’t accept that every kid deserves their time in the sun once in a while.
My kid is never going to be the sports MVP, and I would never dream of being upset that he isn’t invited to a sports banquet to receive an award. I’d never tell another parent whose son made the most touchdowns during the season that my son deserves to be recognized too. And it’s because I recognize that every child has their gifts and unique talents, and sometimes, it feels good to be told that you’ve accomplished something great. And though I’d never complain to another sports parent, I might just tell them that my son comes from a long line of Turkey Trot winners.