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Bring back 2nd place

Joy’s Reflections: Giving everybody first-place ribbons is keeping kids from maturing.

Joy McClain

May 31, 2024

2 Min Read
A young boy with a red ribbon and a Holstein cow
SEEING RED: What happened to the days of red ribbons and working to get better? Handing out blue ribbons to every kid for every event is delaying maturity and respect. Brandy Taylor/Getty Images

Can I get two reds on Aisle 5, please?

Somewhere out there, a ribbon factory has all the machines set on blue, with a remnant few designated for other colors. I have nothing against blue. I love blue. I love blue ribbons. They just lose their “blue-ness” when everyone gets one. 

When every child is awarded first-place status, there really isn’t a placing any longer. It’s just the norm, no matter how hard you worked — or how much you neglected. When I was a kid, it was almost like you had to crawl across glass to get that blue ribbon.

Floating among the projects in every single building at the fairgrounds was an array of colors. You could observe everything from green — downright embarrassing — to white, red and the coveted blue. I don’t recall too many kids whining about it. I do recall feeling extremely proud when I happened to land a bluey or two. 

1st place culture has impact

The rise in anxiety in kids can be tracked with the introduction of social media and cellphones. Their emotional well-being tanked astronomically. I wonder if there’s been a study on the effects of tossing everyone a first-place participant trophy? Has it encouraged entitlement? Has the bar been lowered? Has their sense of pride or independence been dumbed down?

I used to let my kids win when we played Old Maid and Candy Land, and then one day, I didn’t. Cards, game boards and preschoolers turned upside down. The importance of losing, graciously, hit me hard. So, I nipped cheating in the bud, too. “If I catch you cheating or lying, I will not play the game with you anymore.”

Sometimes, that meant the game ended abruptly. Eventually, it did curb the desire to win at all costs. If you won fair and square, you won. If you didn’t win, you lost. We didn’t tiptoe around the word. It’s a life reality.

Sometimes, you aren’t the best. That’s OK. Deal with it. Grow up. There’s probably a trophy out there awarded to the most gracious loser because, even when you lose, we must make certain you feel like you didn’t. That way, you’ll remain the same. You’ll never grow up, mature, be stretched or be uncomfortable — or formed and fashioned into a mature, grateful, respectful human being.

About the Author(s)

Joy McClain

Joy McClain writes from Greenwood, Ind.

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