… or your son, for that matter.
When I was a kid, my parents and teachers used to say I was smart. “You’ll win a Nobel prize one day”. “You’re so smart there is no way you’d fail at any subject”. Well, I’m 25 and I failed at lots of things. And paradoxically, failure was a step in the right direction.
In the recent years, I’ve found several psychology articles confirming my feelings – praising a kid’s raw IQ can be very harmful. The kid learns to value what you praise. If you praise talent, they will value their talent. If you tell them they are so smart, they will have that as a part of their core identity. If you teach them their qualities are innate, they will think they are innate. A talented smart person has it easy in school. If school is hard and there are challenges, a person is not smart. That’s for average kids.
So what do you think will happen when they reach a schooling level where they can no longer breeze through the material and still get good grades?
“Kids who were praised for their intelligence tended to avoid challenges. Instead, they preferred easy tasks. They were also more interested in their competitive standing–how they measured up relative to others–than they were in learning how to improve their future performance.
By contrast, kids who were praised for their effort showed the opposite trend. They preferred tasks that were challenging– tasks they would learn from. “
That’s right, they might have an identity crisis. Or try to preserve their “bright student” identity and public image by giving up hard tasks and only doing easier ones. Or else where will they get their praise, if appearing innately intelligent is getting harder and harder?
The result: an insecure, ego-preserving, image-preserving adult with a badly developed mind compared to their lower IQ classmates. At worst. But most likely, the kid will fail a few times, realize how stupid this mindset is, and drop it in order to adopt an effort-based one. In any case, the kid will have to fail some.
I was never one of the best in my class, but I was very near. I had easier time learning than most kids, but there were always a few genius kids who had it even easier. I used to envy them, because it was pretty obvious they had naturally higher IQs. Now, however, I feel grateful for what I have, and wonder if their hardships were even worse than mine. Did they feel shocked when they entered a hard major in college and it no longer felt easy to get straight As? I know it was hard for me, and took several years of university to start using good studying techniques and get my first A. It didn’t help that I still suffered from perfectionism and often spent time on details I should have ignored in favor of more important things.
I can’t totally blame my parents or teachers. Even if they praised me for effort only, I was still predisposed to perfectionism and could get stuck in a rut. Despite their mistakes, my parents did a great job. I’m still a fairly good student, and got two science degrees. Lets just say I could have done better if things were a bit different.
However, I have cured about 70% of my perfectionism and got rid of the toxic mindset brought on by praising intelligence. Things aren’t bad, and I’m proud of my effort and achievement in the areas where I was naturally weak. I sometimes sit and regret I couldn’t fix more of this sooner, but past can’t be changed, and I can only look forward, towards more self-improvement. Failure is just the death of my old, toxic mindset, not a tragedy. The world is full of possibilities.
Is this a female problem?
I never thought it was a girl-specific problem, as I have seen some guys admit they fell into the same trap. But some say girls are more often praised for smarts, and boys for effort:
“She found that bright girls, when given something to learn that was particularly foreign or complex, were quick to give up–and the higher the girls’ IQ, the more likely they were to throw in the towel. In fact, the straight-A girls showed the most helpless responses. Bright boys, on the other hand, saw the difficult material as a challenge, and found it energizing. They were more likely to redouble their efforts, rather than give up.”
“Researchers have uncovered the reason for this difference in how difficulty is interpreted, and it is simply this: more often than not, bright girls believe that their abilities are innate and unchangeable, while bright boys believe that they can develop ability through effort and practice.
How do girls and boys develop these different views? Most likely, it has to do with the kinds of feedback we get from parents and teachers as young children. Girls, who develop self-control earlier and are better able to follow instructions, are often praised for their “goodness.” When we do well in school, we are told that we are “so smart,” “so clever, ” or ” such a good student.” This kind of praise implies that traits like smartness, cleverness, and goodness are qualities you either have or you don’t.”
I can relate to the way girls are praised. But are boys really praised for effort? The article is kind of feministy, insisting that women are less accomplished in careers simply because of different praising patterns.
“Even if every external disadvantage to a woman’s rising to the top of an organization is removed–every inequality of opportunity, every chauvinistic stereotype, all the challenges we face balancing work and family–we would still have to deal with the fact that through our mistaken beliefs about our abilities, we may be our own worst enemy.”
Natural risk-aversion and less motivation for leadership have just as much to do with fewer women being at the top. However, if girls are praised for smarts more, it’s probably a factor.
Matt Forney implies Western women get too much praise, and are told they are smart. He talks about a girl who was arguing with him on twitter:
“I initially ignored her, but when she continued to harass me, touting her “4.0 GPA” and how smart she was, I clicked through to her profile and did a little research. Turns out that this oh-so-intelligent young lady was spending $58,000 a year to major in acting. Furthermore, while she was not unattractive—she had a good bone structure, a cute face and huge… tracts of land—she was at least twenty pounds overweight, so several of my followers started calling her fat. What was her response?
She started sending pictures of herself to me in an attempt to prove she wasn’t fat.”
Knowing what I know, I wonder if such arrogance is false. When someone is so personally touched by the words of a stranger on the internet, are they actually confident? Is it really an overabundance of self-esteem she has, or is it an attempt to appear smart, because she knows picking a harder major would ruin it? I don’t know about this girl individually, but who knows. Maybe Matt Forney’s arrogant intelligent girls with high self-esteem are actually insecure, intelligent (but unwise) girls with shaky self-esteem.