Saturday, February 17, 2007

First Contact.

This morning, after fourteen days of earnest palpation, I finally felt Baby Chaud push through Nicole's body to the surface. While I certainly have the intellectual capacity to digest such an event, let me tell you, it was as close to a transcendent experience as they get.

I've made a point to speak to Baby Chaud with regularity, not really worrying so much what I say. Have here an interesting review article on a neat economics study.

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.

I must say I have experienced this myself. Too many times I've had to resist rolling my eyes as a parent of a child hails how amazingly smart their offspring is, usually when the child is under the age of two. They see some scholarly thought, some emergent brilliance because they counted to three or pointed out where the light bulb is, all I see is rote regurgitation and indifferent, sophomoric sapience.

I'd have to credit my own parents by drawing a bit of a distinction when layering most praise upon me, as they almost universally made a point to speak of my potential and possibility rather than some sort of ethereal accomplishment. That said, there are many concrete achievements in my life I know they are extremely proud of; not many parents can lay claim to fomenting a childhood that gave rise to my vast and accredited intelligence.

Truth be told, while my son was getting along fine under the new praise regime, it was I who was suffering. It turns out that I was the real praise junkie in the family. Praising him for just a particular skill or task felt like I left other parts of him ignored and unappreciated. I recognized that praising him with the universal “You’re great—I’m proud of you” was a way I expressed unconditional love.

Offering praise has become a sort of panacea for the anxieties of modern parenting. Out of our children’s lives from breakfast to dinner, we turn it up a notch when we get home. In those few hours together, we want them to hear the things we can’t say during the day—We are in your corner, we are here for you, we believe in you.

In a similar way, we put our children in high-pressure environments, seeking out the best schools we can find, then we use the constant praise to soften the intensity of those environments. We expect so much of them, but we hide our expectations behind constant glowing praise. The duplicity became glaring to me.

Eventually, in my final stage of praise withdrawal, I realized that not telling my son he was smart meant I was leaving it up to him to make his own conclusion about his intelligence. Jumping in with praise is like jumping in too soon with the answer to a homework problem—it robs him of the chance to make the deduction himself.

And there it is - it seems to me praising your child (and bragging to every person within preaching distance) is an addictive behavior for the parent.

I think I'm going to demand a lot from my son, but then again, that's just a credit to me, right?


Anonymous said...

Never stop praising. I don't care what studies say about developing intelligence or achievement, it's much more important to show the child that they are loved and that they are important.

The result of not praising your kid is a person who whines that "Daddy was never there for me...whatever I did, it wasn't good enough for him".

You just keep talking to your son and make sure he knows he is loved.

Anonymous said...

I thought you'd really get a kick out of it (pun intended). Think about how it will be when you can hold him.