The Culture of 'You're Special' Is Ruining America

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When I was in middle school (early 2000s) my 6th grade math teacher was asked to stop grading assignments using a red marker because the resulting red, massacred papers were too much for students to bear.  Imagine angry calls from parents because their children were sobbing about being failures.  Come on, you’re eleven years old!  (Only a few years later, teachers were asked to grade using green pens because they were less upsetting to students…)


The way children are raised has shifted from “love + small, measured doses of reality” to “love – exposure to the real world.”  Many children today receive stickers on each assignment (even if they failed the spelling test), trophies for being a part of a soccer team (that they never played on), and award ribbons for participating in required activities.  They also probably have their homework marked in either green or pastel blue.  Their graded assignments meet the “sticker quota.”  Parents give them candy because they are sad they failed a test (because they didn’t study).  I understand kids are sensitive, impressionable, and don’t take well to failure, but kids shouldn’t be coddled forever.

The Millennial generation has been raised to believe that everyone is special.  Barney told me I was special.  So did my mom, dad, and Elmo.  Nobody’s feelings are allowed to be hurt or any stress inflicted.  There isn’t much competition and little incentive to work hard.  In short, there are no losers.  But are there really any winners?

This is the paradox: in order to make everyone feel “special,” everyone must be treated the same–no matter what.  What a contradiction.


This mentality is ruining society.


I’m not exactly sure when the “you’re special” culture popped up–but I’ll make a guess that it began sometime during the Millennial generation. The majority of the Millennials are grown up, have entered the work force, and are allowed to vote.  They’ve most definitely have found their voice and the rest of the country is starting to hear what they are saying.  America is starting to see what the constant stream of “you’re special you’re special” has done.

When it comes to competitive sports, one would think that the jump from elementary school foot races and participation ribbons to adult “entry-fee required” marathons and races would also lead to an increase in the level of competition.  In the case of the Millennials, not so.

According to The Wall Street Journal, younger athletes, Millennials in their 20s and 30s, are less competitive compared to older generations. Instead of running races to beat records or other participants (I won’t even use the word “competitors”), every runner gets a medal and finishing the race is seen as “good enough.”  There isn’t a desire to achieve more–or to be the best. Races are called “races” for a reason… right?


From a blog post by Toni Reavis (a running commentator):

Some observers see larger and scarier implications in the declining competitiveness of young endurance athletes. This is emblematic of the state of America’s competitiveness, and should be of concern to us all.

I already talked about Millennials and the job search–imagine how devastating it is to these kids when they don’t get the job or are told their work is sub-par. Sorry, no stickers in the workplace.

I don’t know about you, but I’m concerned.  Not only is the “you’re special” culture backfiring and turning some kids into entitled snots who don’t understand hard work, but also many are unable to cope with failure once they enter the “real world.”  Yes, children are a gift and deserve to be loved. And yes, they are unique because they have different interests and gifts. Each one deserves to feel secure in their environment; however, we shouldn’t make every menial task into a phony awards ceremony. Positive reinforcement is good–but it shouldn’t be made up.

The “you’re special” culture teaches kids that things will be handed to them–and that equals “fairness.” This goes against the principles upon which America was founded. This country was built on the dreams of hard-working people who went out and met their goals.  Our children should learn early on that life isn’t fair or nice and that hard work pays off whether it be a hard-earned A+, a first place ribbon at the science fair, or the joy of obtaining a job after a series of interviews.  Sure, we all fail miserably sometimes but it teaches us to try harder. If our drive as a nation to improve and succeed dies, then, there goes everything that once made America great…



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