Family Magazine

Telling Your Kids They Are Smart: It's The Kiss Of Death!

By Joanigeltman @joanigeltman
What the hell is this woman talking about? What do you mean, don't tell my kid that he/she isn't smart? If I don't say that, they will think I think that he/she isn't smart!
Well it turns out, that kids who are smart, and who are continually told that they are smart often don't do as well academically as kids who may not be as "smart"but are praised for their hard work and perseverance, and who end up with better all around grades. How interesting is that? Just read this article.
http://nymag.com/news/features/27840/index4.html
This is an amazing article, and one I wish all parents would read just before their child walks into their first day of Kindergarten. But obviously, since this is a blog for parents of teens, I will talk about it's relevance for your older "kids." As the first day of school closes in I thought this would be a good time to talk about this. The gist of this article is that kids who are consistently told that they are smart tend to not want to challenge themselves to do things that seem hard just in case they fail and then prove to everyone that maybe they really aren't smart. In terms of your teens, this is how this often plays out. Your teen breezes through elementary and middle school. Their brain is hardwired for this foundational material to integrate fairly easily. Work that might take other kids hours to understand, memorize and master, might take your kid a few minutes. Homework is done in a flash, it's done well and it's done right. In class, they may be the first to raise their hand, show understanding and mastery. Parents are happy, and teachers are happy. He/she is so smart, has great verbal skills, grasps new concepts easily.....are comments that teachers write year after year. And then it's on to high school and Harvard! The message to your child is there is something in me that makes it easy for me to please all the adults in my life. Except that once they hit high school the work is harder and requires more time, concentration and can often challenge this perception of themselves that academics are a piece of cake. Things don't come easily anymore. You actually have to put in tine and work to learn.
Read the article. It provides many examples of how a  lifetime of being told you are smart can affect a students perception of him or herself and their abilities. Attribution theory can explain this. If you are a teen who has been told all your life that you are smart, than means that there is something innately inside of them that magically makes them "get it". They attribute their success to the luck of the draw so to speak. "I was born with smarts" So when they do well on something, get an A on test that was easy, it doesn't register as I made this A happen.There is no real pride in the A, cause they didn't have to do much to get it.  Conversely, if you are a kid who has to work his/her ass off to get a B. This kid feels tremendous pride and accomplishment for working hard to achieve this grade despite some academic deficits.
In my experience, the "smart"  kids often give up in high school. ' Not working up to their potential" is a common report card comment. Here is this student's dilemma. "If I do study, and don't come up with the A that everyone expects of me because they always tell me I am smart, than me and everyone else will finally realize that in fact, I am not smart! So better just to not do it and not blow my cover. I will just say, I don't care, or I didn't study.
So this is why continually praising your kid for being smart has less value to him/her than " You really put a lot of time on that report, or studying for you test, I am really proud of you for working so hard." It is the effort and the challenge of doing something you didn't think you could do that builds self-esteem. Praising work effort has meaning. Praising smart is empty.
So as this school year begins, rather than focusing on the first quiz grade, whether an A or an F. Focus on how they got it. If they got an A, recognize the effort. 'I saw you really studying for that quiz, you shut off your phone and facebook, and really took the time you needed. I know that was hard and that grade reflects that. If an "F" is the first grade of the year. Rather focusing on the grade, and saying you are disappointed, talk more about what they could do differently the next time. "I get this is a tough subject for you, and I have confidence that if you can figure out how to study for this differently you would have a different outcome."
Attributing success or failure to effort and hard work, rather than to good or bad luck (the test was easy, the test was unfair) makes everyone feel that they have control over their outcomes.


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