Great article: the inverse power of praise

How not to talk to you kids

[quote]For a few decades, it’s been noted that a large percentage of all gifted students (those who score in the top 10 percent on aptitude tests) severely underestimate their own abilities. Those afflicted with this lack of perceived competence adopt lower standards for success and expect less of themselves. They underrate the importance of effort, and they overrate how much help they need from a parent.

When parents praise their children’s intelligence, they believe they are providing the solution to this problem. According to a survey conducted by Columbia University, 85 percent of American parents think it’s important to tell their kids that they’re smart. In and around the New York area, according to my own (admittedly nonscientific) poll, the number is more like 100 percent. Everyone does it, habitually. The constant praise is meant to be an angel on the shoulder, ensuring that children do not sell their talents short.

But a growing body of research—and a new study from the trenches of the New York public-school system—strongly suggests it might be the other way around. Giving kids the label of “smart” does not prevent them from underperforming. It might actually be causing it. [/quote]

The gist is that kids who get praised for ability rather than effort get a sense that there’s some mysterious and inscrutable force within them that their achievement depends on. Much like Thomas Covenant’s white gold, this force does not always rise to the call, leading such kids to shy away from anything they aren’t immediately good at. This premise is just flat-out TRUE from the perspective of my own experience.

I also like this bit:

[quote]“After reviewing those 200 studies, Baumeister concluded that having
high self-esteem didn’t improve grades or career achievement. It didn’t
even reduce alcohol usage. And it especially did not lower violence of
any sort. (Highly aggressive, violent people happen to think very highly
of themselves, debunking the theory that people are aggressive to make
up for low self-esteem.)”[/quote]

This is supported by other studies I’ve heard reports about on NPR, saying that in fact our modern-day products of self-esteem-focussed education are actually more insecure than in previous eras, showing a strong sense of entitlement, lacking confidence in their abilities and unable to take criticism.

A really interesting post.

As a parent, I would find it really hard to avoid praising my son but, as a teacher, I am well aware there is a dangerous comparable myth about bullies and low self-esteem. Bullying usually stems from elevated self-esteem; bullies (I guess like the over-agressive people in your quote) tend to have very high, bordering on arrogant, self image. They don’t crumble when confronted because they tend to have absolute faith in their importance above their victims.

Thank you for some interesting reading!


I think praise has to be moderated… For example, when my daughter does something - the first couple of times we praise her… but after that, no more praise…

sometimes though, she NEEDS to be praised… it encourages her to do things she doesn’t want to do (ie. sit properly when eating)

she’s only 1 1/2 though…sure she won’t be getting that praise when she’s 5 :stuck_out_tongue: she’ll be scolded for not sitting properly instead…

I don’t thik this will be a big problem here in Taiwan. Most kids are called stupid and idiot for anything from walking too slowly to writing sloppy characters.

Some serious future overachievers possible here if ya ask me!