Don't Tell Your Kids They're Smart

Telling kids that they are smart will make them dumb. That's the gist of New York Magazine's cover story, Praise is Dangerous. It's actually a pretty interesting topic for parents on several different levels.

1) There's the modern parenting culture of making our kids into "praise junkies" by just praising them constantly to try to inflate their self-esteem.

2) There's the issue that what parents are really trying to do when we do this is to stroke our own egos.

3) There's the broader question of how this plays out outside of the family unit in schools and sports. It already bothered me that we've taken away the specialness of getting awards because everyone just gets one automatically.

4) But, probably the most important point is that telling kids that they are smart, just makes them feel entitled and lazy, but at the same time puts pressure on them to succeed at everything and can ultimately decrease their self-esteem when they realize they can't do everything.

I particularly liked a study cited that showed that kids that were told that intelligence is not inherent and that the brain is a muscle that can become bigger and stronger with exercise did better because they believed that they could do better if they tried harder and so they did.

So the moral of the story is that praise is OK, but parents should give very specific praise to children, like, "I liked the way you caught that fly ball," rather than just telling kids they're the hottest thing since Babe Ruth. Specific praise reinforces the behavior we like, whereas just telling a kid they're really smart apparently makes them feel dumb.