Kids Know Awards for Everyone are Stupid. Because They’re not Stupid.

– Posted in: Elfie, Mouths of Babes, Newt, Parenting, School

The kids turned in their science fair projects last week. Neither of them made it to “the big show,” but that wasn’t a huge surprise. Motivating kids in this department has been historically. . . frustrating. They basically procrastinate for two months, decide last minute that they want to do a “great job,” and then get angry because they didn’t get chosen. I suspect one of these days, they’ll figure out that 80% of the reason why certain kids do get chosen is because 1) their boards look nice and 2) they perhaps let their parents help them with the verbiage in the reports instead of telling them to piss off.

I usually give them a “What do you think you can improve on next year” speech to go along with my irritation, but I sort of laid low this year. I felt a little bad for Newt — he actually worked pretty consistently on his. I mean, I’m a bitch but even I have my limits.

Anyway, it turns out they didn’t care all that much about moving on to the next step of the science fair. But what they were bent about was the fact that they got “awards” congratulating them for doing excellent science fair projects. Yes. This totally ticked them off. And we ended up in a deep conversation during the car ride home.

Do awards for everyone ever motivate kids

Motivating Kids

Newt: I don’t know why you would even bother to give everybody one of those things. I mean, if you give it to everybody, then it’s just. . . you know. . .

Me: Meaningless?

Newt: Yeah. Why would you do that? What’s the point?

Me: Well, you have to understand that somewhere around 20 years ago, people decided that if you gave an award or trophy to some kids — like if they won a game — then it might make the other kids who didn’t get an award feel bad. So everybody started giving trophies and awards to all the kids no matter what happened. Even if they won or lost.

Newt: But that doesn’t make any sense. How would you ever know if you did a good job? And you’d never have any times in your life that were great. It’s like the whole heaven* thing and why it doesn’t make any sense. If you’re always happy, like in heaven, then you won’t really be happy because you can’t just keep getting happier and happier. There has to be a balance. You have to be sad sometimes or else you won’t know what happy feels like. Otherwise, you’ll just feel nothing. In heaven or in hell.

*And yes, this has been my explanation of why I don’t believe in heaven or hell. I’m proud to say that clearly it’s not only been heard but clearly understood.

Elfie: Yeah! I don’t know why grown-ups do that to kids. And they talk to us like we’re stupid.

Me: Do you guys know the word “condescending”?

Both: No.

Me: When you’re being condescending, it means you’re talking down to someone. Like they’re not as smart as you are. Or less than you are.

Elfie: Yes! Okay, here’s an example. Adults — not you — do this thing where they go up to a little kid and say, “Wooowwww! Goood jooobbb!!!” And it’s so irritating. It’s like, just be normal. I mean, that’s not how you talk to kids. You just say, “Hey, good job.” When I talk to little kids, that’s what I do. I don’t get all in their faces and yell, “Oh! You’re so awesome!!”

So. . . yeah. The stupidity of awards for everyone? Not lost on my children. Kids are smarter than we think they are. They aren’t fooled by cheap tricks to boost their self esteems. They don’t appreciate being told they’ve done a good job when they haven’t. And they resent seeing their peers being praised equally for doing less work.

Kids are just like adults. They know the real score of the game, even if no one’s supposed to be counting. They know when someone’s been picked for doing good work and not just randomly selected. And they know when some ass kisser is yanking their chains.

That’s one advantage of being a bitchy mom. At least they know that even if almost everyone around them is motivating kids by yanking their chains, chances are, one of them won’t be me.


12 Comments… add one

Sisters From Another Mister March 11, 2013, 8:18 pm

I am the Worst Mom
But it worked for me.
My youngest, new to school in November after 5 years of homeschool, is only there til the end of the year. So … I spent a couple of hours last Saturday making a science project – while she read a book and did virtual school math … a grade ahead.
Did I give a good message – probably not, but when my oldest was still in school .. I remember all the parents doing these stupid projects. So there, I admit it. But, let it be said, I still hope to get an A.

Tammy March 13, 2013, 3:03 pm

That was a good confession.

If you don’t get an A, it’s really going to suck! I’d love to watch you go in and dispute it…:0

Polly March 11, 2013, 8:57 pm

THANK YOU!! It’s one thing to get a little “thanks for participating” paper, but EVERYONE doesn’t get to win. Not fair to the people who worked hard. Illogical. Etc., etc.

Tammy May 5, 2013, 6:09 pm


Kristen Daukas March 12, 2013, 5:40 am

Kudos to your kids (and you, naturally) for recognizing this asinine practice early. Now, can they please start telling all the helicopter parents out there? I just get this vision of one of my staff members sitting in front of me in 10 years just looking at me, expecting to be handed a promotion and raise. 2 weeks after they started.

Tammy May 5, 2013, 6:10 pm

Oh, that’s going to happen sooner than you think. Those kids are already out in the workforce.

Molly March 12, 2013, 4:13 pm

This reminds me if so many moments, and the central theme of “The Incredibles”; “we’re discovering new ways to celebrate mediocrity!” Or that when someone is truly great they can’t stand out because it offends everyone else. It’s bullshit. When my husband gives awards for soccer season, I silently gag, but he does a good job of pointing out everyone’s talents. Yet he doesn’t mention stand outs. It makes me nuts. There are outliers everywhere and I feel they need to be recognized. Gah. Nice post, Tammy.

Tammy May 5, 2013, 6:11 pm

Thanks Mol. I know, it’s like we’re all encouraged to do our best and yet not stand out. So weird.

andrea-maybe it's just me March 12, 2013, 6:45 pm

Ah yes, this makes me feel all warm and angsty inside…and not because I disagree (because I don’t)

Tammy May 5, 2013, 6:12 pm

Mmmm. Warm and angsty.

vanita March 14, 2013, 2:13 am

ok girlfriend, your kid? super smart! omg. also, I think it’s very cool that Elfie isn’t condescending to younger kids. my oldest teen does the whole “Wow Thats Aweeesome” thing with our preschoolers and it really annoys the crap out of me. And? seems to irritate my 4 year old too because he tells her “don’t talk like that. it’s crazy.” Man I remember late nights of working on poster projects for history and science. The teens (when younger) would drag their butts for 6 weeks on it and then whine that the project was due in 2 days. i always got a good grade but never an award…

Tammy May 5, 2013, 6:13 pm

I LOVE that the 4-year-old says, “Don’t talk like that, it’s crazy.” Love the straight-talking little kids.

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