Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Why Telling Your Kid He's Smart May Ruin Him & Other New Thoughts On Parenting

I picked up NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman shortly after Nate was born. It's fascinating reading for anyone interested in child psychology and development. I love it and had to share.


NurtureShock explores ten areas of child development and parenting with chapters on the power of praise, attitudes toward race, speech development and teen rebellion. Each chapter is interesting and sometimes shocking (as the title suggests), though my reading has focused on those areas that pertain to Nate right now.

Much of the research questions the wisdom of current parenting trends, particularly the first chapter - The Inverse Power of Praise: Sure, he's special. But new research suggests if you tell him that, you'll ruin him. It's a neurobiological fact. It comes naturally to most parents to want to heap the praise onto their progeny. "You're so smart, you're so great, good job." While praise can be extremely beneficial when done in the right way, new research shows that praise can actually be damaging if it's done in the wrong way.

While at first blush it seems counter intuitive that telling your child he's smart could hurt him, it suddenly makes a ton of sense when you read the experiments done to test the effects of praise. In one experiment, children are given a test. After the test, half - at random - are praised on their effort and the other half praised for their intelligence. They were then all given a harder test - designed to make them fail - but were told they had the option of a more difficult test or an easier one. Those praised for effort willingly tried a harder test in the second round, and actually score higher in a third round test. The kids praised for their smarts preferred to opt out of the harder test and chose an easier one for the second round. Their scores tended to dip in the third round test.

It seems that those kids labeled smart want to hold onto that label at all costs. They're more risk adverse since they don't want to fail and lose that label. However, those acknowledged for their effort felt that their abilities were more within their control and were therefore more likely to try new challenges. Their perseverance often resulted in higher scores.

It makes sense, doesn't it? There is so much more in this book, I can't recommend it enough!
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