“Special Snowflakes”, “Helicopter Parents” and “Fairness”

Two articles caught my eye this week, each reinforcing the other even though they were published several thousand miles apart.

The Globe and Mail newspaper in Canada published an article titled ‘Our precious little snowflakes‘.  Here’s an excerpt.

By the time a kid reaches 18, she will have accumulated boxes and boxes of diplomas, medals, ribbons, trophies and certificates for just showing up – whether she’s any good at anything or not.

There’s also a good chance that her parents will still be as heavily involved as ever – guiding, advising, applauding, and doing everything they can to protect their little snowflake from any sense of failure or rejection. The task of parental rescuing now extends well beyond the age the kid is old enough to vote.

A few weeks ago I found myself sharing a table with several business executives and a dean from a leading community college. All had stories to tell about overly protective parents. The dean described parents who help their kids write their essays (these kids are 20), and complain to him if they think their children’s marks are too low. A bank executive told us that it’s not uncommon for parents to call the HR department if they think their kid got an unfair performance appraisal. (He made me swear not to name the bank.) A manager with a major multinational told us how a mother called his office to complain about her son’s too lowly job description.

“I hear stories all the time from recruiters,” says Nate Laurie, who runs Jobpostings, Canada’s leading online student job network. “Parents call the recruiter and ask if he got their child’s resumé, or why their child didn’t get the job. When the kid goes for an interview, they go with her and sit in the waiting room.”

There’s more at the link.

This is, of course, disastrous for the development of the child as an individual.  If they’re convinced they’re special, even when they’re not, the real world is likely to prove a cruel disappointment – if not a slap in the face.  They aren’t prepared to face reality.  What’s worse, they’ll find it very difficult, if not impossible, to shed their self-important self-image and realize that they’re just one more human being in a world full of them.  No-one owes them a thing.

That leads me to the second article in the Telegraph, titled ‘How I shamed the ballet world over ‘discriminating’ against disabled ballerinas‘.

[Seven-year-old] Pollyanna, who had her first prosthetic leg fitted [after an accident at the age of two], has grown up like any other girl, with the same interests and pursuits, and one of them is – was – ballet. She started to dance when she was just four years old, and loved it. As her parents, we loved to see her grace and poise.

But her prosthetic leg was still stuck at an immovable right angle. She was able to go on demi-pointe with her left foot, but not with her right leg. This did not matter while she was so young that no one judged her. But then in 2012, Pollyanna and her class enrolled in exams run by the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing (ISTD).

On the day she looked immaculate, in blue leotard, tights and a swirly blue ballet skirt, her hair in a tight bun. As she disappeared to be marked, like all the other girls, I sat with the other parents outside the examining hall, hoping all had gone well.

But it hadn’t. When the results came through, we were appalled to discover that Pollyanna had apparently been marked down because of her disability. She received 35 out of 50 for “presentation, musicality and response” but 13 out of 40 for technique (including just two out of 10 for footwork and co-ordination). She only received a pass, while the other girls received merits or distinctions.

. . .

Our disappointment was crushing. As her parents, we were unwilling to let Pollyanna continue in a discipline which marked her down simply because of the way she is. So Pollyanna stopped going to ballet. She is now successfully taking part in Riding for the Disabled.

. . .

The ISTD admitted that for a disabled girl like Pollyanna “it can be damaging to work towards a goal of an examination which cannot be achieved”. Andrew McBirnie, Director of Examinations at the Royal Academy of Dance, one of the other examining boards, said that to offer a concession for Pollyanna’s disability “would be unfair” to other able-bodied ballet dancers.

“Pollyanna was not marked down or adversely marked; she was marked to exactly the same criteria as every other candidate,” he told me. “‘We are not allowed to amend or adjust those requirements for any candidate, no matter what their circumstances may be. To do so risks not only prejudicing the results of those candidates for whom adjustments are not made; but also, I would argue, devaluing the achievements of the candidate for whom they are made.”

I was furious. And at this point I decided to alert Government ministers to what was going on. Ed Vaizey, a Culture minister, was appalled, saying: “Someone who has a passion for dance should not be held back because of a disability, and their excellence should be recognised in the same way.”

Again, more at the link.

I found myself blinking in disbelief as I read the second article.  I think the ISTD was exactly right in its response.  Ballet requires a certain physical ability, otherwise one simply can’t do it correctly.  To allow a disabled person special privileges in examinations because they aren’t capable of certain movements would be a slap in the face to all those who are capable of doing what the discipline demands, and have worked hard to master those skills.  If an eight-year-old girl’s feelings are hurt because she can’t cope with them, I blame the parents who didn’t make reality clear to her and encouraged her to persevere in a hopeless quest.  I don’t blame the ballet teachers or examiners in the least.

This is yet another example of helicopter parents insisting that their kids be given breaks above and beyond the bounds of reality.  I see it in a huge number of instances in our news media.  Parents who badger coaches, insisting that their son be allowed to pitch for the Little League baseball team or be the quarterback for the school football team (without possessing the necessary aptitude and skills);  insisting that their daughter’s art be given a prize or exhibited at a school function when it’s nowhere near as good as the work of other children;  and so on.  They have no conception of reality, and their kids are growing up even worse off in that regard.

My parents had a very simple approach to all of us as kids.  We were encouraged to do our best.  When that best wasn’t good enough, and we became discouraged, they’d help us improve to the best of our ability, but they’d also praise those who were better than us and encourage us to congratulate them rather than feel jealous.  They’d also make sure to support us where we were strong, developing areas where we really did have abilities so that we were ‘better than others’ in those areas.  That way we never felt rejected or belittled.  We knew we could do some things well, but not others, and we understood that was the natural order of things.  Kids today don’t seem to grasp that reality.

I note, too, that ‘special snowflakes’ and ‘helicopter parents’ seem far more prevalent in the urban liberal progressive strongholds of the north-east and left coast than they do in the more common-sensical centers of the mid-west and south.  I’m glad the rot hasn’t set in everywhere yet.



  1. Pollyanna? You gotta be shitting me! What a perfect name for precious little snowflake.

    So what happens when the 'pissed off parents' wanna enable her to pursue her other dream of being airline pilot? You gonna board that aircraft? Me neither.

    Methinks Pollyanna should name her parents as defendants in a major civil action.

  2. "I found myself blinking in disbelief as I read the second article."

    Really Peter? Especially given that the subject was ballerinas.

    You really never read Vonnegut's Harrison Bergeron?

    He flung away his rubber-ball nose, revealed a man that would have awed Thor, the god of thunder.

    "I shall now select my Empress!" he said, looking down on the cowering people. "Let the first woman who dares rise to her feet claim her mate and her throne!"

    A moment passed, and then a ballerina arose, swaying like a willow.

    Harrison plucked the mental handicap from her ear, snapped off her physical handicaps with marvelous delicacy. Last of all he removed her mask.

    She was blindingly beautiful.

    "Now-" said Harrison, taking her hand, "shall we show the people the meaning of the word dance? Music!" he commanded.

  3. I apologize Peter. In retrospect my opening line sounds way too harsh.

    You see your sentence left me in disbelief.

    Here you are promoting a boycott due to the excesses of SJWs and yet you are still surprised when you see their ilk inserting their concern trolling about an unfair world into all human achievements. They, in their wisdom, would see to it that such unfairness were alleviated. Vonnegut took that inclination to its bizarre, liberalism-run-amok culmination, and he did it circa 1960.

    By writing a short story that featured a Handicapper General as villain, he guaranteed himself a place in the hearts of normal men. (Too bad his leftist fans convinced him of a self-importance that led him off the rails later.)

    I simply felt that mention of Harrison Bergeron should not be overlooked given both the specific subject and your run-ins with other SJWs. My apologies once again.

  4. Peter, this is almost too much to be believed. Mr Hope, and his daughter Pollyanna? The Harrison Bergeron parallels are so painful. Part of me wonders if this isn't some huge elaborate trolling exercise, some form of art perpetrated by the author in order to draw attention to these kinds of excesses. It's hard to believe that this is straight up.

    If this is satire dressed up in high art, I could almost believe it, and whoever put it together should be given a Pulitzer. If its reality then it's very, extremely, unbelievably depressing.

    For possibly the first time in my life I can honestly say that I don't know whether to laugh or cry.


  5. Attempting to mandate equal results rather than equal opportunity? That's an old story by now.

    The ADA is often used to deny things to non-handicapped if they cannot be made accessible to the handicapped. In education, NCLB is pretty explicit about this; generally, far more is spent on special education than on gifted education. Affirmative action in all its forms.

    Promoting people beyond their abilities is no gift to them. Who will pay to see a ballerina who cannot dance? Who will trust their lives to a doctor who has been let through the system because of race or gender? These people wind up leading lives they are not suited for, which is hardly a recipe for happiness.

    Meanwhile, this builds resentment. The pendulum has reached its SJW extreme and has started to swing back. The inevitable backlash is beginning.

  6. Girl should be damn proud that she even got a pass with a prosthetic leg; I know plenty who wouldn't have gotten that with a full set of working limbs.

  7. On a side note, there is a connection with abortions and mothers who go on to become "helicopter parents" with their subsequent offspring. They can't protect the child that has been killed … but they sure can make it up with the other ones.

  8. By the time a kid reaches 18, she will have accumulated

    I stopped reading at this point. The correct third-person singular pronoun to use when referring to people in general is the masculine, which is inclusive of both sexes under those circumstances. The writer placed his own political preferences above proper grammar and thereby compromised both his comprehensibility, and his integrity. Thus, nothing he writes should be taken seriously, as he cannot be trusted to engage in honest reporting.

  9. I have some experience with the Imperial Society, and the truly amazing accomplishment is that the girl passed. Her parents should have given her some well-deserved praise for her accomplishment, as it really is significant.

    The hard fact is that if the ISTD lowered its standards for any reason at all, the value of all previous awards diminishes. The usual reaction to a lowering of standards is to specify just when you passed your exam and who the examiner was.

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