The Death of the First Place Ribbon

He’s gone folks. The shiny blue first place ribbon that used to mean something. His time of death was called many years ago, but never fear, he has been replaced by an equally shiny participation ribbon and there are plenty to go around! Why? Why was it so evil to give children ribbons or awards that patted them on the back for actual achievements. Now, everyone remains the same and ribbons are given to all. What is this teaching our children though?

Let’s say that little Johnny works his rear off on his science project. He starts planning from the minute the assignment is given, toils away on the design of his board and carries out his project to perfection. On the day of the science fair he beams with pride as he waits for the judges to come around and see his project. Now, let’s say that little Susie waited until the last possible moment to start her project. She rolled some pennies and glitter around in glue, threw them at the board and created a half-hearted project that looks like it was put together by Picasso. She is less eager to show off her design to the judges, but breathes a sigh of relief that at least the project got done.

The judges come around. They spend a good 30 minutes quizzing Johnny and he is able to answer all of their questions. You can tell they are clearly impressed with his project. They get around to Susie, who is not able to answer any questions relating to her project, and the judges quickly walk away.

A short time later, the ribbons are handed out and Johnny’s heart drops when he sees that ribbon of participation hanging from his science project board. He looks over at Susie’s half-hearted attempt and she too has the same shiny ribbon and is beaming with pride herself now. She has managed to get the same award and recognition as Johnny, but with little effort.

What is this hurting? It is hurting those who work hard because they see that there is no value in working hard when even those who don’t try at all will be rewarded. It also tells those who don’t try at all, that they don’t need to, since they will all receive the same recognition in the end. The truth is, this is not how the real world works folks. There are shiny blue first place ribbons in the real world and only those who work hard and put forth effort will prevail.

When did it become necessary to coddle our children and tell them that everything they do is perfect? “Oh, good job pooping in the potty Jimmy, I do believe that is the best poop I have ever seen.” Yes, it sounds ridiculous and it is, but it is the equivalent of what we are telling children every day. Instead, we should be showing them that if they want to succeed in life that they will have to work hard, harder than others at times and that no one is going to be there to constantly praise their every move when they get older. Is it okay to praise your child? Of course, but not for nonsensical things. Not when they haven’t done something truly worth praising. Otherwise, what is the praise even worth?


  1. Nice piece! I couldn't agree more. There are already enough adults in the world who think showing up is the same as a solid day's work. We do not need t create more of them.

  2. There's a fine line with praise and yes I think some go over board but they do make for fun stories years down the read

  3. I agree 100% I have though the same myself, I was brought up the tough way and it made me a strong Independent person.

  4. I have always disagreed with participation ribbons and trophies. I understand at a toddler age or when they are very young and learning but there comes a point when I believe you should be recognized for hard work.

    At my sons middle school they stopped doing "honor roll" because they felt it was wrong for those that didn't get as good as grades.

    It gives our kids nothing to strive for. We all want recognition for a job well done.

  5. I don't know, I think for certain things it is good to get a child to feel good for trying their hardest and being part of it. My kids have gross motor skill issues and will never be the winner when it comes to athletic contests. It is nice to give them some encouragement when they could easily fall to not wanting to try.

  6. My 11 year old has dyslexia Marryann and he will never earn an award for his grades, but he understands that he is a special circumstance and I reward his efforts on my own. That doesn't mean I would want the school to stop awarding other children who worked hard to earn honor roll and do not have disabilities. It is good to encourage everyone, but at some point, I think they have to move towards learning that everyone doesn't always earn the same.

  7. I don't understand why people are so against rewarding kids who stand out. I understand we all are different and some of us my have more challenges, but seriously.

  8. I agree. Many kids are spoiled and don't see the value or benefit of hard work. Some stop trying and other learn that if they don't do anything, they'll still received commendation.

  9. I totally agree with you, but think there's a compromise. When I was a kid, everyone got participation ribbons- BUT they did first place, second place, etc. too. So if you worked really hard, you still got that ribbon that showed it & you could brag about it. But for those of us {like me} who really did try but kind of suck at sports, or aren't creative enough to make an eye-popping poster presentation, we were still acknowledged for trying our own personal hardest, even if that wasn't enough to win the REAL ribbons. I still always pushed myself that much harder to win the blue ribbon, but since I was never quite good enough, I appreciated being recognized for my attempt.

  10. I definitely agree Shell, that is a great idea. I am not against participation ribbons in theory, and a compromise is a great idea.

  11. I kind of have mixed feelings about this. I think kids should be awarded for doing their best but I don't think anyone's best is better than anyone elses. If that makes sense.

  12. I think it's nice in theory to reward everyone, but this doesn't really work in practice. Instead of teaching our children to try hard and excel, we are teaching them that everyone deserves something – I think it plays a big part in our children's sense of entitlement.

  13. I really like participation awards for certain activities. If not for participation certificates, my daughter would NEVER receive the slightest attention for her accomplishments in school. Being rewarded has made me proud of HER accomplishments and helps her to not compare herself to others. She is dyslexic, need I say more?

  14. I think there is a place for participation ribbons, but not at the cost of dropping placement ribbons

  15. This drives me crazy. Kids need to be rewarded when they earn something. Showing up is not the same thing. You don't get a Black Belt for showing up!

  16. I think for very young children who are just learning to participate this is a good idea, but I don't like it for older kids. I worked very hard as a competitive diver to get my first place ribbons and metals. Sometimes I didn't, but either way it taught me what hard work would get me.

  17. I think participation ribbons and stickers or whatever are great. My middle tries his little heart out and sometimes can't just seem to get to the level of other kids, it just isn't quite clicking yet for him. It would break my heart if he never got any sort of praise or ribbons, even though his work and projects are not as great as some of the others. He works as hard as anyone I venture to say so I think he should be rewarded too. His projects and work may look like he didn't try but I can assure the teacher he works hours each day trying to do as well as the other kids do. So I see no problem with participation ribbons and that goes for my other kids who stuff comes very naturally too LOL.

  18. Toni, I definitely know that there is a small percent of children who try and try, Jordan is one of those. However, the majority of children who have failing grades or bad projects, etc. don't try very hard at all and are still rewarded. My opinion isn't necessarily for that small percentage of children, but for the majority who do not have any sort of disabilities.

  19. I'm torn, I hate all the ribbons for silly stuff, but it does encourage the kids.

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