Participation ribbons should be banned from schools

My oldest child is in her third year of school, and in that time she has won two ribbons.

Two. Two hard-won, highly treasured, meaningful ribbons. The first is a second-place ribbon she was awarded in a sprint, and the other was for crossing the line in third-place in the cross-country.

The pride radiating from her puffed little body when she won these awards was nothing short of spectacular.


But it’s a feeling that I think many kids are being robbed of. They’re being short-changed.

And it’s all because of participation ribbons.

We were at a relative’s house last weekend and my daughter saw her cousin’s collection of ribbons. Her eyes were bulging, as she took in the array of colours – red, purple, green, blue, it was a veritable rainbow of ribbon achievement.

“How did you win all of these?!” she exclaimed.

Her cousin shrugged, indifferent. “Oh, I got them at school,” she said in an offhanded manner. “Hey, do you want to see my new hatchimals?” And off they ran.

While they were busy playing, I picked up the ribbons for a closer look – as I, too, was impressed with her collection!

First ribbon – participation in a running race.

Second ribbon – finalist in the cross country.

Third ribbon – participation in a poetry reading.

And so, and so on, and so on.

Out of 13 ribbons, not one single strip of fabric had been awarded for actually winning anything. They were all participation, highly commended or finalist ribbons – handed out to every student in the school, it seems – for simply “showing up”.

What’s the point?! We don’t get a pat on the back for doing the bare minimum in the real world, so why are some schools giving kids ribbons of achievement for simply participating?

It’s not just the fact that they don’t deserve it, and that this type of thing encourages entitlement and apathy, that bothers me.

It’s the fact that these kids are genuinely being robbed of that incredible feeling of satisfaction that comes with being “the best”.

Kids are continually building their sense of confidence, self-worth and resilience. Winning or losing a race or school activity is an opportunity for growth and grace – and ‘participation’ ribbons add no value to the process whatsoever.