Monday, February 12, 2007

How Not to Talk to Your Kids - Part 1

From Po:

Today, Ashley and I unveil our cover story for New York Magazine, "Praise is Dangerous: How Not to Talk to Your Kids."

In the piece, we tackle how parents praise their children – specifically, the idea that, according to a Columbia University survey, 85 percent of parents believe it's important to praise your children's intelligence.

In a very quick overview of what we've discovered, we've found that research by professor Carol S. Dweck and others directly challenges that belief that praising for intelligence is beneficial to children's development. (Actually, it turns out there are even scholars who are making a persuasive case that any praise at all can be damaging, regardless the context.)

Instead, Dweck's research shows that praise for intelligence can be harmful. Kids praised for intelligence can do well, but only while they succeed.

Once they fail, however, it's a whole other story. Because children praised for intelligence attribute their earlier success to their innate abilities. Thus they don't know how to respond to their new failure. Rather than seeing failure as a temporary event, they believe that their failure is proof that they didn't actually have the innate abilities they had been previously lauded for.

Note that there's two separate ideas twined together right there. One is the aspect of praise itself, and how it's used (often overused). The other idea is how praising intelligence (telling a kid "You're so smart") teaches the idea that intelligence is an innate ability - i.e., a fixed ability. You're either smart or you aren't.

Over the next few posts, we'll have much more to say on the topic of praise including: how praise is so often mis-used (it's not really praise at all); how praise affects children's motivation; and do's and don'ts on praising your own children.

Carol Dweck is a charming scholar. Though she recently joined the faculty at Stanford, most of her life has been spent in New York; she was raised in Brooklyn, went to college at Barnard, and taught at Columbia for decades. This reluctant new Californian just got her first driver’s license – at age sixty. Other Stanford faculty have joked that she’ll soon be sporting bright colors in her couture, but so far Dweck sticks to New York black – black suede boots, black skirt, trim black jacket. All of which matches her hair and her big black eyebrows – one of which is raised up, perpetually, as if in disbelief. Tiny as a bird, she uses her hands in elaborate gestures, almost like she’s holding her idea in front of her, physically rotating it in three-dimensional space. Her speech pattern, though, is not at the impatient pace of most New Yorkers. She talks almost like she were reading a children’s lullaby, with gently punched-up moments of drama.

Read our piece and enjoy learning from her research.

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6 Comments:

Anonymous lad219@hotmail.com said...

Having only discovered your Blog in November, I've been reading archives, but today 2 things caught my eyes...Anderson Cooper and Praising Intelligence!

As a fan of Cooper's newstyle and his seeming sincerity toward his topics, I was pleased to read more about him in your article.

As the parent/mother of a 'gifted' student, we have always tried to downplay the ease with which many subjects were 'excelled' in. Now our 'brightest student' (teacher quote, not ours) is 'dumbfounding' teachers, etc. by only turning in 'average' work, while still earning top marks. When asked, our new teen & h.s. freshman will gleefully tell you, that he doesn't want to hear "we know that you're capable of more" from his teachers...'he's 13 and all 13 yo boys don't like school', which in turn prompted his mother's hated response "don't generalize - speak for yourself".
I do miss that young eager to please imp with the snaggle tooth smile...and then again, I do love the young man he is becoming..his own.

10:17 PM  
Blogger Dave Heasman said...

"praising intelligence... teaches the idea that intelligence is an innate ability - i.e., a fixed ability. You're either smart or you aren't."

Isn't this true? Unless you actively reduce intelligence by some sort of abuse? You can't increase it, can you?

9:23 AM  
Blogger Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman said...

From Ash:

Actually, I think some of the brain science is still being worked out, and there is a belief that IQ is fixed, or at least, within a range of ability, but some of the scholars I've spoken to actually say that Dweck's research does suggest that levels of intelligence are indeed malleable, and that that premise of intelligence being set may need to be re-examined.

9:46 AM  
Anonymous Bonnie said...

The important idea is that even the brightest child must learn to develop innate talent. Otherwise, it's just potential, and of no use to anyone. I've worked with gifted students for 17 years, and everything in Dweck's article makes sense. There's nothing worse than a bright child who has been brought up to believe that success must come effortlessly. Such children often have parents who believe the adults around him (i.e. the teachers) are responsible for arranging success, and that the child is required to bring nothing to the learning process. The cry of "He's bored. You're not teaching him right," wears very thin by the time you've developed the umpteenth unit designed just to pique the interest of a sullen 4th grader who refuses to try anything. No wonder so many gifted children become depressed underachievers.

Sure, there's such a thing as innate ability. But it's only as valuable as the individual's determination to so something with it. Dweck's research is valuable
information about how to avoid some pitfalls in encouraging children to use their abilities.

6:27 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

I agree that inborn potential can be developed into ability.
When speaking of too much praise I think of Narcissists and Sociopaths. I do not rule out that some come from great environments, but I lean towards the belief that these are learned behavioral problems. When a young child is told by a parent or teacher that they are smarter, more artistic, or better in any way than their peers, they latch on to this believe (especially if they are insecure or need validation). We've all seen kids who reject negative feedback and hold tight to their belief that they are better, and they rule the critic as mistaken.
I had a class where days into the semester, a kid who had not yet attended took a seat in the middle of the classroom. He sat for few minutes of class, then, in the middle of the professors lecture, the kid stood up and announced to the class that this class was stupid, and that genius' don't need to know this sh**. He walked out with his head up high. One of my classmates leaned over to me and explained that the same kid did the same thing in one of her earlier classes.
Yes, Praise can be dangerous.

7:17 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

I agree that inborn potential can be developed into ability. I think the belief that some people are born better than others is evil and wrong. This mode of thinking leads to and enables ego/ethno/etc. centric thinking.
When speaking of too much praise I think of Narcissists and Sociopaths. I do not rule out that some come from great environments, but I lean towards the belief that these are learned behavioral problems. When a young child is told by a parent or teacher that they are smarter, more artistic, or better in any way than their peers, they latch on to this believe (especially if they are insecure or need validation). We've all seen kids who reject negative feedback and hold tight to their belief that they are better, and they rule the critic as mistaken.
I had a class where days into the semester, a kid who had not yet attended took a seat in the middle of the classroom. He sat for few minutes of class, then, in the middle of the professors lecture, the kid stood up and announced to the class that this class was stupid, and that genius' don't need to know this sh**. He walked out with his head up high. One of my classmates leaned over to me and explained that the same kid did the same thing in one of her earlier classes.
Yes, Praise can be dangerous.

7:24 PM  

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