An article that has been getting a lot of airtime in my household (and extended friends/family) is this one printed last week in New York Magazine. It’s truly worth reading, even for those of you who never click on anything lest you ruin your train of thought, but I’ll give you one of the theses: the act of praise might be damaging your kids. I’ll put it another way: never congratulate a kid for something he has no control over.
The article perfectly illustrates why so many of us were labeled as SMART! early on, and then proceeded to get shitty grades for fifteen years. It also accounts for several shame-spirals you may have experienced, and perhaps even a lifelong feeling that you were destined for something greater, but took a wrong turn.
Specifically, they tested kids who were told how intelligent they were, and then compared them to kids who were praised for how hard they worked. By and large, the so-called “hard-working” kids treated their brain like a muscle that could get bigger, and opted for more challenges. The so-called “intelligent” kids opted out, lest they disappoint. It was rather heartbreaking, especially if any of it rings true for you.
Why do humans find such value in things they can’t control? We look upon beautiful people as better people, as though they were “chosen,” imbued with secrets from their Creator that others can’t know. We give beautiful people such power; we make them our CEOs, we hold the door for them, we listen when they speak.
The same thing happens with money. Truly rich people are viewed with a kind of awe, trepidation. If you hang around them long enough, you notice rich people never pay for anything; they don’t have to, it’s on the house. You could argue that many millionaires are self-made, but it’s the opposite that we truly worship: the heirs of a fortune, the golden boy about to accept his inheritance, the blue bloods of Kennedys and Rockefellers.
Both beauty and money are almost entirely out of our control, and yet we cram them both with praise – it’s no wonder people who are gorgeous and wealthy do everything they can to keep both, through shady deals and surgery.
Tessa and I have a vague theory I call “eggs and butter,” which simply states that nobody really knows what’s good for you at any given time (“eggs will kill you!” “eggs keep you alive!” “use margarine!” “never use margarine, it’ll kill you!” etc.) The same might hold true for this NY Mag article, but there’s something about it that makes clear sense.
Today, I wore this T-shirt:
…made by my favorite shirt guy on eBay. I have another shirt with an apple on it that Lucy loves, so I pointed to this apple, and asked Lucy what it was. She thought for a few seconds and then said “Computer!”
Several things ran through my head:
a) Sweet Jesus, I want to hug my daughter for being so goddamn brilliant!
b) Wait, how the hell did she know that?
c) Um, so “branding” works on a 22-month-old?
d) Take THAT, Bill Gates!
e) Must… not… call… her… “smart”…
And so Tessa and I just gushed and said, “That’s really good, sweetheart, it IS our computer!”
Maybe we’re child psychology dorks, but if we can keep the Lulubeans happy about things she can control, then maybe she won’t need half – or any – of the drugs I’m on.