Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Power and the Perils of Praise

Thank you everyone who sent us this link to NY Magazine article, How Not to Talk to Your Kids. Bronson makes some good points and cites research by Carol Dweck (Praise the effort, not the child, but there are more issues to consider when children don't seem to be flourishing in school.

1. The Context: In the article's example, Thomas, a young man with a super high IQ test, "wasn't very good at spelling" and had trouble with cursive handwriting. Was this parental praise run amuck? Or perfectionism, unrealistic expectations, gender-related "delays" in writing, or an unrecognized challenge like dysgraphia or "stealth dyslexia"? It's easy in a magazine article, research study, or blog post, to give a quick answer to a problem (e.g. "Giving kids the label of "smart" does not prevent them from underperforming. It might actually be causing it," but reader beware! All children have nuances - and looking for them may really help them the most.

2. Childish Expectations and the Disadvantages of Inexperience: Most children have little idea of how much work goes into mastery or expertise. It's not surprising, they just haven't lived that long. All children will be helped by encouragement and positive adults in their life who can provide context to their failures and encouragement when they have to work much harder at something that doesn't come easy for them.

3. Feelings of Self-Worth are Important: Praise can certainly be overdone (and trend-watchers like Jean Twenge have data that the self-esteem movement is in overkill), but parents should also be vigilant when they notice their children making self-deprecating comments ("I'm stupid, stupid, stupid) or showing signs of "Imposter syndrome" - feeling like they don't belong in their place in school because they are underachieving according to their IQ scores.

In fact, many New York (and other) elite schools struggle with identifying why underachieving students in their middle to high school years. The reasons are many, but it's not hard to ignore the fact that many children earn their place when IQ tests are administered in Kindergarten... before other issues like reading, writing, and mathematics can be assessed. There are burdens too, for children who are precocious when young, but can't keep up with the performance demands (often writing) or competition in these schools.

Finally, anxiety and feelings of inadequacy do contribute to underachievement every day. Stereotype threat research is especially enlightening in this regard. Look at the effect on girls' math performance when they were given the suggestion that it was "often noted that girls scored lower than boys" (High Threat, HT). It is not only girls who are vulnerable to stereotype threat, this effect has been noted in boys, men and women, and Caucasians and African-Americans, although the intimidating remarks often have to be changed to fall more in line with conventional stereotypes.



What prevents a person from succumbing to stereotype threat? Self-affirming activities, like reflecting on personal strengths and other self-affirming behaviors.

How Not to Talk to Your Kids - NYMag
Eide Neurolearning Blog: Generation Me vs. Others
Eide Neurolearning Blog: Finding the Right Ways to Praise Kids
Eide Neurolearning Blog: The Biology of 'Choking' Under Stress
Eide Neurolearning Blog: Stealth Dyslexia: When Writing is the Problem
Eide Neurolearning Blog: More Boys, Girls, & Different Brains, and Longer Times to Process
Stereotype Threat and Girls' Math Performance

Technorati tags: , , , , , , ,

No comments:

Post a Comment