Youth and Public Recognition: 145 Badges and Counting

By: Bored in Vernal
March 6, 2011

NT SS Lesson #9

Included in NT Gospel Doctrine Lesson 9 is the following strange little story:

Elder William R. Bradford of the Seventy once spoke with the bishop of a ward whose youth had worked to earn money for an activity. The bishop asked Elder Bradford if he would help the youth get some recognition for what they had done. To the bishop’s surprise, Elder Bradford said he would not. He said that he was glad that the young people had worked hard, but that it was not important that they receive public recognition for that work.

When the youth decided to donate their money to the Church’s general missionary fund instead of using it for the activity, they wanted to have their picture taken with Elder Bradford as they made the donation, and they wanted to have the picture and an article put into the newspaper. Again Elder Bradford surprised them by saying “no.” He told the bishop: “You might consider helping your young people learn a higher law of recognition. Recognition from on high is silent. It is carefully and quietly recorded there. Let them feel the joy and gain the treasure in their heart and soul that come from silent, selfless service” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1987, 90–91; or Ensign, Nov. 1987, 75).

I found this story odd although I can understand the principle behind it. I have encountered the same type of thinking several times in Church settings. Several years ago when one of my daughters was 11 she had earned her “Gospel in Action” recognition. At the time in the ward where we lived it was customary to present the children who earned this award a small medallion. It was given them by the Bishop during the opening announcements in Sacrament Meeting. But our new Primary President was of the same ideology as Elder Bradford in the story above. Instead of being recognized, my daughter was handed her medallion in the hall at the end of Primary.

This experience was a harbinger of things to come. Soon the Gospel in Action program was phased out. Now the girls participate in the “Faith in God” program. Although in some wards there continues to be some recognition when the girls pass of these requirements, the program specifically instructs that the girls should not be awarded special tokens for their efforts, but instead should feel the satisfaction of doing the good works for their own sake. This is juxtaposed with the scouting program, where at every step there are badges, pins, ceremonies, and commendation.

How do you feel about recognition in Church youth programs, including Scouting? Do you think Elder Bradford is right; that youth should be taught of a higher purpose for serving and participating? Or do you think such recognition can be motivating and strengthening to our children and youth? Finally, do you think recognition and awards are skewed in favor of the boys?

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25 Responses to Youth and Public Recognition: 145 Badges and Counting

  1. GeorgeAnne on March 6, 2011 at 6:01 AM

    Don’t even get me started on boy scouts! UGH! But, I don think that we should recognize accomplishments like Faith in God. However, I was always taught that service, activities, and donations should never be recognized.

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  2. Stephen M (Ethesis) on March 6, 2011 at 7:39 AM

    The old “do not your alms before men …” Surely no one believes that any more. Or do they?

    On the other hand, failure to follow traditions can make someone feel cheated and ignored. That is wrong. I think there should be a balance, and would have continued giving awards in public.

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  3. Bored in Vernal on March 6, 2011 at 7:46 AM

    GeorgeAnne, I understand the sentiment behind that, I really do. But it’s motivational to see these stories in print, for others and for the youth themselves. And I’m not sure it’s a bad thing to have recognition along with the good feelings that come with doing the service itself.

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  4. E on March 6, 2011 at 9:07 AM

    I think what kind of bothers me about this is that I am not sure that having authority figures withhold recognition teaches the desired lesson. How do you teach someone to do good works for their own sake and not for recognition? I don’t know, but I doubt withholding praise, recognition, or awards is the way.

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  5. Henry on March 6, 2011 at 9:31 AM

    Your Father, who seeth in secret, will reward thee openly.

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  6. Alice on March 6, 2011 at 9:47 AM

    I don’t care if there are recognitions or not, I just wish whichever way it went, it was equal. My son gets to go to pack meeting every month and in front of everyone gets some kind of award, and then everyone does a special cheer just for him.

    The Activity Day girls don’t get anything like that.

    I wish they’d be consistent. Either rewards are good motivators, in which case girls ought to be motivated the same as boys, or they both ought to learn the value of work and service without the rewards.

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  7. Bored in Vernal on March 6, 2011 at 9:50 AM

    Alice, that bothers me, too. And in the same way, recognition doesn’t happen equally throughout the Church, or even in the same ward under different leadership. So it’s confusing for youth who have been working on badges, or medallions, or what-have-you, when kids who came before them had certain recognitions and then suddenly they don’t. Or vice-versa.

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  8. Matthew Chapman on March 6, 2011 at 10:03 AM

    I have been involved in several scout troops where the quest for awards- by leaders and parents- overshadowed the desire to get the scouts to actually do something.

    These programs produced “Eagle” scouts who I wouldn’t trust to fry an egg in a kitchen, let alone over a campfire.

    The recognition ought to be a motivating factor; sometimes it becomes an end in itself.

    I suspect that there is a desire somewhere among the leadership of the Church, to replace the Scouting program with the Duty to God program, but there is a lot of resistance among the membership generally.

    My experience is that the most rabid adult Scouters push for awards for perfunctory performance.

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  9. Paul 2 on March 6, 2011 at 10:14 AM

    The only thing I can predict is that the message will continue to be incoherent. You will have GA talks that talk about righteous things youth have done and that praise them, and other GA teachings saying not to publicly recognize them, and the whole yellow shirt service thing. This seems to suggest that after looking at the messages, one acts in a way that seems right. IMO is probably better not to whipsaw the local policy because of one talk, but to wait and see where the average is going. And also to think about principles instead of rules.

    The difference between scouts and YW is regrettable.

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  10. Stephen M (Ethesis) on March 6, 2011 at 10:24 AM

    These programs produced “Eagle” scouts who I wouldn’t trust to fry an egg in a kitchen, let alone over a campfire.

    I have to admit, first time I met some of those I was pretty surprised.

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  11. prometheus on March 6, 2011 at 10:28 AM

    On the one hand, the goal is to reach the point of doing good for the sake of doing good. On the other hand, there is the reality that without feedback, one may feel that one’s works are neither meaningful nor effective (kind of like blogging without readers or comments).

    It is a balancing act – not only the idea of external versus internal reward, but between public and private recognition. I think that less public recognition can be successfully counterbalanced with increased private recognition. In fact, I think that for many people, a quiet word from a valued friend or leader is in fact more meaningful than being publicly lauded.

    In the end, the goal is to internalize the reward, but I’m not entirely convinced that the most effective way to do that is to demand it from the beginning.

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  12. Dan on March 6, 2011 at 10:28 AM

    Give them recognition for accomplishing their goals. Almsgiving is not part of some project wherein once it is accomplished one should be recognized for his effort. The assistance toward the poor should occur as long as there are poor amongst us. Jesus was not teaching the people that they should not make public the service they do to others, or to be recognized by them. Jesus was not decrying the publication of one’s service to another. He was decrying the publication of that service with the end goal of self-agrandizement. The purpose of keeping secret the service done to others, is so that we learn the principle that it doesn’t matter who served the other. What matters is that the other was served. It’s not about us, but about the person who needed help and was helped.

    In terms of the kids, I see no problem congratulating them for their accomplishments. If the goals feel awkward (serving others publicly), then we probably ought to change the goals to something else that we feel more comfortable in publicly congratulating children for.

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  13. Dan on March 6, 2011 at 10:29 AM

    oh, and the church should divorce itself from the Boy Scouts.

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  14. Stephen Marsh on March 6, 2011 at 10:34 AM

    Ah Dan, there you go being balanced … and agreeing with me. I’m not sure that is allowed.

    Next thing you will be agreeing with me that unions are a necessary counterforce. You either get unions, socialism or revolution, and unions always seemed to be more American.

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  15. Dan on March 6, 2011 at 10:43 AM

    I’ve always been balanced. :)

    And unions are a necessary counterforce. :)

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  16. Badger on March 6, 2011 at 3:36 PM

    Unless your daughter’s medallion was for clandestine work too secret to be revealed in public (“Gospel in Action: Behind Enemy Lines”), I fail to see the point of having a medallion at all. A hallway conversation: “daughter of BiV, I’m proud of your accomplishment” is fine. The same conversation plus a medallion comes across as “here’s how proud: one medallion worth, but you didn’t do well enough to have it presented in public.”

    As for Elder Bradford, it’s too bad he wasn’t in the mood to teach a lesson in gratitude that day. Honestly, when someone donates money to your organization, “I’m not going to thank you, and it’s for your own good,” does not strike me as meeting the standard of common courtesy. Neither does making the bishop do his dirty work and deliver the bad news (and lesson) to the youth. How about, “I’m sorry, I wish I could, but I can’t?” And this was apparently after they had already tried once to guess what he had in mind (Is it selflessness? Let’s try the missionary fund! Wrong answer.)

    What’s the real lesson here? Church leaders exercise their authority in an arbitrary and capricious manner, but the problem is still with you? Seventies are too righteous to be minimally polite? This is how bishops are kept in their place? Obviously anyone can have a bad moment, and if this were just an account of something that happened once, that would be one thing, but what is it doing in the lesson manual? I think there’s far too much subtext for it to be effective for its ostensible purpose.

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  17. Dan on March 6, 2011 at 7:17 PM

    for what it’s worth, I didn’t even touch that example from the manual in my lesson today in Sunday School. I actually used Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million dollar donation to the Newark Public Schools as an example of where you can donate publicly and be recognized for it.

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  18. rk on March 6, 2011 at 7:29 PM

    Whoever felt the need to do away with given token awards to mark accomplishments does not have a good grasp of child development and does not understand how to motivate children and teens.

    Things such as patches, beads and pendants are a target to aim for. They act a marker of accomplishment. It also helps keep a kid on track. Children are very visual and tactile a good teacher will take advantage of that tendency. Expecting children and teens to do a big long list of things just because it makes you feel good inside sounds great in theory, but in the real world most can’t stay on task very long without some tangible incentive and praise.

    I never got my Young Women Recognition award even though I was very active in the program. I saw the program as a big book full of non-specific stuff I was supposed to do. It was just too overwhelming to sustain my interest. Being awarded a pendant by the bishop in Sacrament meeting just didn’t seem like that big of a deal. When the boys got their Eagle Scout award they would get a special court of honor where family from out of town would come to celebrate and congratulate the scout. A Young Woman’s recognition award seemed to me to be insignificant in comparison.

    I do know that this is the Lords church despite the blatantly unequal treatment between boys and girls. I dread having to explain this to my daughter when she gets old enough to sense this.

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  19. Will on March 6, 2011 at 9:14 PM


    “oh, and the church should divorce itself from the Boy Scouts.”

    We actually agree on something! A good start.


    The real issue here is the difference between the recognition the girls get in Young Women as compared to the young men in Scouting. This is bad policy in the church and it needs to be changed. I agree with Dan – the church should divorce itself from Scouts.

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  20. The Other Clark on March 7, 2011 at 12:35 PM

    Will and Dan agree? I’d better pay up on my tithing, as the Second Coming can’t be far off.

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  21. Paul on March 7, 2011 at 2:43 PM

    My son has resolved this in our family. He doesn’t care a flying fig about scouting awards, and doesn’t earn them.

    I’m a big fan of recognizing good behavior in every kid we can, privately and publicly.

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  22. gibson on March 10, 2011 at 7:56 PM

    My eldest son just made eagle scout. Our family is proud of him. My middle son will hopefully achieve the same later this year. Our family is proud of him.

    As converts we are grateful that the Church supports the scout program. The denomination we came from had nothing for youth but basketball.

    Public recognition helps us in our missionary opportunities.

    The Ensign still has articles on members receiving “public recognition” for their humanitarian works. Should those be eliminated also?

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  23. SUNNofaB.C.Rich on March 11, 2011 at 8:41 PM

    Boy Scouts is a great program in my opinion. I had a good time in Scouts when I was lad going to an LDS scout troop. Does anybody actually have a problem with the Boy Scouts program itself? or just the way it’s implemented in the Mormon church youth program? (the fact there is no exact equivalent for girls) Times change I guess, maybe kids and parents are just lazy and would rather play video games and watch TV all day then get out in the great outdoors and learn some good wholesome activities. I guess coercing people into any program is going to breed resentment… but that’s a Mormon problem not a Boy Scout problem.

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  24. prometheus on March 12, 2011 at 9:23 AM

    re: 23

    “maybe kids and parents are just lazy and would rather play video games and watch TV all day then get out in the great outdoors and learn some good wholesome activities.”

    or, perhaps the hamster wheel badge grind is just too boring for words? or the obsessive attention to pointless ceremony? or perhaps health / money concerns that keep one from enjoying the great outdoors?

    my point being, there are a lot of reasons that people might not enjoy BSA, and painting them all with the brush of laziness is not really fair.

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  25. SUNNofaB.C.Rich on March 12, 2011 at 9:46 AM

    “and painting them all with the brush of laziness is not really fair.”

    it’s kinda fun though…

    I guess BSA is kinda “old fashioned” I always thought it had it’s virtues though.

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