How to Talk About The Scholastic Awards’ Results by Writopia Founder Rebecca Wallace-Segall and Program Directors Yael Schick & Danielle Sheeler

This year’s results for the Regional Scholastic Writing Awards are intended to be announced in most regions on January 28th, 2021.

Many of our writers ages 13-18 will find out that their pieces were honored with honorable mentions, silver keys, and/or gold keys! We are so, so happy for all of our teens who received positive feedback this year. It feels great to work hard and be heard and celebrated by people other than our own parents and Writopia instructors. Of course, not everyone wins recognition each year though. Either way, how we respond to the results impact our childrens’ emotional well-being.

The suggested responses below help cultivate happy long-term writers.

The Writer Who Wins Recognition

After big hugs and cheers, be as thoughtful as your writer is about what words you use to celebrate their success. I would like to urge you to praise the hard work, dedication, and courage that your writer invested into their writing this year. Carol Dweck and a growing body of researchers recommend refraining from praising children’s raw talent alone. Their research suggests that praising hard work and dedication leads to … more hard work and dedication.

As writers, we all know the value of winning outside recognition. Receiving recognition from publications and awards can increase a teen’s confidence and help cement their identity as a writer. A new writer may understand the power of their writing in a brand new way— a stranger read their work and was moved/inspired/impressed! After receiving recognition, many writers feel validated, encouraged, and committed to return to their writing and continue to develop it to its furthest. Most writers have a deep desire to connect to with a wide audience through the written word, and this is an important first step in that journey.

Unfortunately, since our writers submit over 2,000 pieces a year to various competitions and publications, we have also seen kids become negatively affected by the process–even when they win. We have seen kids take in tremendous praise and attention after they win awards, and then produce less work afterward, become increasingly anxious about their work, and even plagiarize out of the fear of disappointing family and teachers in the next competition. In the past, an 11-year-old writer we know plagiarized a story and handed it in as a school assignment. She explained over tears: “My classroom teacher said to me at the beginning of the year ‘I heard you were a gifted writer, I can’t wait to see your writing!’ I felt so anxious about that expectation.”

A Happy Writer Needs:

Hugs, high-fives, and an acknowledgement of their dedication to writing and revising and sharing. A happy writer needs to hear that you were moved by their writing. Final takeaway: Laugh and cry when you’re supposed to laugh and cry as you read. What is more inspiring and uplifting than that?

The Writer Who Did Not Win Recognition

Parents share with us each year their challenges with figuring out how to speak to a disappointed child about not receiving recognition for their creative works. We have a few suggestions that we hope you find helpful:

Acknowledge your children’s disappointment while staying focused on the positive–how effective of a writer they are, how subjective the adjudication process is, how much they love writing, and how many more years ahead there are to write and share. It is very important that the writer does not feel the weight of your disappointment in him/her or in the results in general on top of their disappointment. Sometimes when we think we’re commiserating, we are actually exacerbating their pain. You are not upset at all about the results because you are so proud of your writer for writing, revising, and submitting.

(Please note: if the writer had been resistant to revision in workshop, instructors may use this as an opportunity to encourage further revision. It is ideal to not take this topic on as a parent in most cases, though, at least in intense emotional moments.)

At Writopia, we believe that the success is in the submission. A writer isn’t a writer because she wins awards; a writer is someone who has the motivation and passion to write and to submit regardless of the result. We are all writers at Writopia. Not only do we know how much goes into producing a piece of writing, but we also understand how difficult it is to share writing, whether it be with a workshop or to a panel of anonymous judges. We have all faced rejection; it’s part of the journey.

The good news: Every one of our regular Writopia writers who has continued to submit throughout high school has received an award, a publication, or a production by the time of high school graduation.

We make sure that your child’s workshop environment continues with positive support and enthusiasm for self-motivated writing. However, we certainly understand that this may be a sensitive time for our writers, and we want to let you know that Writopia instructors and staff are here to continue to encourage and support your writer. And so we have a policy of not discussing who received recognition and who didn’t inside of workshop, as we have already celebrated everyone for finishing their pieces, finessing them, and sending them in.

In Conclusion

Your kids have dedicated time to imagine, articulate, narrate, and polish their writing, and ultimately, help us all consider the world in a new way. They make us laugh and cry every day. That is the real cause to celebrate.