Book recommendation plus a little self analysis

I am reading an absolutely terrific book, Nurtureshock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman.  It’s basically a well-written run-through of all the latest social science research on parenting and child development.  Kind of a Freakonomics or Gladwell book on child development.  Some of the work was recently excerpted in a Newsweek cover story about how babies (i.e., humans) are essentially innate racists.  As I’ve known this since grad school, I didn’t actually find that part particularly compelling.  Some of the stuff I found most interesting: it is not a good idea to frequently tell your children they are smart; it is a good thing for adolescents to argue with their parents; kids lie to their parents at an amazingly distressing rate (maybe I’m forgetting, but I think I just lied to my parents much less than the average kid), IQ testing for kids younger than 3rd grade is an incredibly stupid idea (or at least tracking those kids in schools or programs based on those tests is), and much, much more.  If you are a parent, you so should read it.  If you’ve ever been a kid, you so should read it.

Okay, the self analysis you’ve been waiting for. When the book describes what happens to many kids who are over-praised for being smart, I realized that this unfortunately fit me to a T.  I heard throughout my whole childhood I was smart.  Anyway, when kids learn their smart and they can’t do something, they figure there’s not much point, because they are just not smart at it.  Despite the fact I have a PhD, perseverance in the face of adversity has always been a weakness of mine.  I got a PhD in Political Science because it wasn’t that hard for me.  Whenever I’ve run into academic difficulty, I always just figured it wasn’t for me and quit, rather than trying harder.  Maybe if I hadn’t always heard I was smart, I could have actually worked harder and received a PhD in Physics or Neuroscience or something (not that I’m not happy with PS).  There’s also a worthwhile lesson– praise your kids for working hard (something they have control over) not for being smart (something they don’t have control over).  And, like I said, read the book, maybe you’ll have your insight into your self.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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