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You tell a kid they're smart: You've immediately set them up for long term failure.

"Smart" is a quantifiable hard limit. The problem with smart people is that as soon as they run up against a challenge/concept/issue they cannot immediately overcome, they get frustrated, because they "should be smarter than this!" Which often results in avoidable frustration/anxiety/depression.

You see this a lot. "Gifted" "smart" kids who coast through school for years, until one day they finally run up against something they cannot do and run away from it screaming. Simply because they're not "smart enough."

Where is the school program that let's the bullshit pseudo concept of "smarts" fall by the wayside and instead replaces it with an atmosphere where failure IS acceptable, and that you just have to work through the hard parts?

I have a kid. My wife's side is second generation "gifted." These people are absolutely obsessed with how smart they are/sound/come across, and get incredibly upset/frustrated/annoyed when they feel "dumb" (i.e. things are hard, they don't get it right away, or they make a mistake).

Unfortunately when I raise the issue of "hey, focusing on an intangible level of intelligence could be damaging [here look at this child research]" I just get eye rolls, because they're so deeply into the concept of how innately intelligent they are, they cannot see a less damaging way of living one's life.




>You tell a kid they're smart: You've immediately set them up for long term failure.

this is why you put the kid into a school with other "smart" kids so the kid gets the chance to experience that s/he isn't the smartest one, that there are much more smart kids out there.

Speaking from personal experience - without much special effort 8th grade city's first place in physics, mathematics and chemistry, regional second in physics, yet once i got into the high school for advanced studies of math and physics (where students were collected from multiple regions of the USSR (45-y anybody ?:)) i was just an average, and any time getting above it took significant effort and on many occasions i was just trounced by other students, the really smart ones.


> this is why you put the kid into a school with other "smart" kids so the kid gets the chance to experience that s/he isn't the smartest one, that there are much more smart kids out there.

Or you could homeschool them.

We don't say one way or another how "well" our kids are doing, or how "smart" they are. We just teach them. When they learn one thing, we teach them the next. There's no "scores", there's no comparing them with other kids. There's just learning. If they need more time or practice to learn something, we give them more time or practice.

The goal of education is to get them to know as much as we know and then some. (And there's the learning social skills aspect. But we take care of that in a different way.) It's not a competition. We're all in this together.

And yes, some people will be better at some things, and worse at others. That shouldn't affect self-esteem. If everyone was good at the same things, the world wouldn't be able to function. And nobody's good at everything.


I went from a public kindergarten-8th grade school where I was in a gifted program–a few hours a week of special classes, but mostly in normal classes which I found quite easy–to an old-school, elite private high school with tons of smart and very competitive kids from around the world.

Like the author's kid, I was put off by the competitiveness of my fellow students and sometimes afraid of trying at all when faced with the idea of failing publicly. It was stressful at times, and I definitely didn't do as well as I could have because of it (though I still enjoyed high school overall).

Now that I look back on it, however, I think that my experience in high school was formative. Being among all of those high achieving, highly motivated people raised my subconscious bar for success, and while I didn't outright fail, I grew quite a lot by having my limits pushed and persevering through some near failures along the way.


Nobody told me I was smart. Nobody had to.

Class was boring, but I got straight As. It was excruciating listening to other kids try to ask and answer questions because every goddamned thing they struggled with was so fucking easy. It was fucking horrible. It didn't change, all the way through high school.

Then I went to university, and I had a lifetime first: kids who knew things I didn't. Kids who corrected me on mistakes... and they were right. Kids who were as smart, or smarter than me.

For the first time in my life, getting graded on a curve meant I had to fucking work instead of just doing nothing and then blowing the curve for everyone else.

I desperately wish I'd had that experience at a younger age. It would've been awesome. But I didn't.

Gifted classes would've been great, but my school didn't have much of that.

The thing you're failing to understand is that the problem isn't that the kids are told they're smart. It's that they're actually smart. Not telling them doesn't change shit.


That's kind of part of the point. Kids who understand that they are relatively smart become content with just being better than the other kids. Instead of realizing that they also have to do other things that further learning like more work by themselves or explaining things to their classmates etc.


I had a similar experience. I won't go into details but the second year of college hit me hard. I had no study skills because of breezing through everything before that.


Would it have been helpful to have a "you are not as smart as you think" or a "you are comparatively stupid" or a "you know nothing, Jon Snow" experience sooner?


I was told I was gifted at a very young age, and people expected a lot out of me. But by the time I hit 9 years old, I had already convinced myself that school was too easy -- I didn't value my grades at all. I would fail regularly and say "I don't care about a mark on a paper." I barely graduated high school.

But the problem here wasn't that I thought I was gifted, it was that I didn't compare myself to my peers at all. Getting an A was easy, so it meant nothing to me. The other students who did well were not people I aspired to be like. I spent all my time working on things I enjoyed for myself, and those challenged me to work independently. I failed Algebra because I spent the whole semester reading a statistics book. I failed an English class because I spent the whole time programming on my calculator. (I had run out of classes to fail, and had to take classes at college to make up the credits.) But once I started studying physics, math, and computers, I've been happily over-performing ever since.

I remember moments where I turned away from challenges, but I always turned toward something that mattered more to me. And there are challenges there, too. You will be challenged no matter what you choose to do, so long as you aren't doing only what has already been done.

So I can't say I'd agree with you. People are often just awful at measuring success.


I'm sure you're doing well right now, but are you sure it's a good decision to rely your entire life on a judgment made by your 9 year old self? I mean, what have we learned by when we're 9 year old? Maybe you learned some arithmetics and concluded that you've mastered the entire field of mathematics? Again, I'm not saying you made a mistake in your life, it may have worked out for you but it may not work for 99% of the population. Maybe you were lucky.


It's possible that I'm wrong. It's maybe even likely that I'm wrong. I guess my point is that, in the big picture, of the factors that make a child successful or not, being told they are smart seems to me to only be a mistake if you don't tell them anything else -- if you don't teach them what it means to be smart.

At some point, I learned that I wasn't as smart as I thought I was. That was a valuable lesson, and one that I learned as a child.


You are wrong. There is compelling evidence that emphasizing the importance of intelligence (including praising it) versus emphasizing the importance of hard work, causes children to do worse at a variety of tasks.


I was told I was smart a lot. I think it just made me lazy and cocky, thinking I could do anything easily without trying, so I didn't try at a lot of things. It didn't make me run away from hard problems, though. I still like those, and I enjoy the frustration of a difficult problem.[1]

It probably also didn't help that I lived a very sheltered life as an upper-class Mexican and everything that I wanted I could get by just asking. That has been another obstacle that has been difficult to overcome: learning how to do hard work and fend for myself.

--

[1] As long as the problem doesn't involve people, though, since people are not really a problem to be solved


There are some English schools that have "failure" weeks. Here's one example from 2012.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-16879336

Other thing schools are doing is stopping children putting their hand up to answer a question. They just ask a child at random to try to answer. (In theory) wrong answers are fine, they're looking for the child to try to explain the answer they have.

Praise effort, not achievement is useful and is something that parents should be doing.


Got to say I've seen this practice done a lot, but never found it beneficial as a class exercise. Nobody really learns anything through this. The person being asked tends to panic and muddles through. The people in the class who don't understand try to follow and end up more confused. This can go through a few rounds with more wrong answers. Eventually the lecturer or a student will give the right answer but half the people have tuned out already or lost their train of thought.

I think it's a very bad way to learn anything. The actual method is sound when used outside of a lecture in one-on-one or small groups where everyone is involved, but fails terribly with large groups.


>an atmosphere where failure IS acceptable

Ultimately, education is about competing for progressively smaller numbers of seats in progressively better lives. High school has nothing to do with "learning" - it's a test, a very long one, to find out who belongs in selective colleges and who doesn't. Colleges are, in turn, a test to find out who gets to stay in the middle class. School before HS is about learning the discipline and technique for approaching that test. But the content of both is entirely irrelevant. Its only purpose is to be difficult, so that some people can hack and and others can't, because there isn't room for everyone at the next stage. Some kids have to be weeded out. If you think this is a strange attitude, ask yourself why people complain so much about grade inflation.

There cannot be a situation where "failure is acceptable." If you give a rational high school student an assignment that they can fail without consequences, they'll spend their limited budget of energy and attention on one that gatekeepers care about. The only way around this in a world where comfortable livings are a scarce resource is to allocate them on some axis other than intellectual merit. For a long time we did more or less that: as long as you were white, male, and born to a "good family" you didn't have to work too hard in school. Well, those days are ending, and the world is a more just place for it.

In a non-grade-inflated environment, "failure" is okay as long as you fail less than your peers. This is perhaps a better environment for the cultivation of resilience - you're used to tests you can only make a 30% on. But then the operative kind of failure is performing worse than your peers. A lot of people on HN complain that kids these days can't deal with being average. But I've never seen someone say "we hire the middle 50% of developers." No. We hire the top 5.


To be both somewhat insightful I provide a small correction...

> Ultimately, the predominant educational system and it's preeminent methodology, have become about competing for progressively smaller numbers of seats in progressively better lives...

One of many reasons I have put off having a child, the financial burden of giving a child a 'good' education, is considerable. From the purely academic component of quality teachers, to the social component of creating an environment where their interaction with other children is beneficial, neither of these comes cheap.

I'm not after much, just well paid teachers who stay passionate while they teach, a class size where they can give each student enough attention, curriculum that allows the child to 'surge forward' when driven by curiosity and be rewarded for their work not punished for not doing 'this weeks assignment', and enough other children to interact with so they can develop social skills. The last one is the tough bit, all the others can be provided by home school with or without using private tutors or paying for a 'personal teacher'.


There's a big difference between calling your child "Smart" and calling "Gifted". Sounds like wordplay but it's really not. I agree with your main point that "gifted" children end up failing way more than just ordinary smart children. But I've also seen a lot of children who grew up a confident person because their parents praised them a lot. They just shouldn't call them "gifted" because it implies that the kid already "has" the gift, whereas being "smart" just means greater potential.


>>But I've also seen a lot of children who grew up a confident person because their parents praised them a lot.

As long as things are going your way, confidence is good. When they are not, fake confidence leaves you completely blind to your own problems. And it kind of amplifies a negative feed back loop.

Almost every person I meet this days talks of 'optimism', 'hope' and 'confidence', often confusing that with laziness and inaction.

Reality doesn't care about our feelings. Taking a true stock of the situation and performing per it, will help us a lot more than textbook contextless confidence lessons personality development books teach us.


In my opinion if you truly have confidence, chances are you will succeed in life (assuming you're not some delusional psycho). The world revolves around people who take action and confident people tend to take more action. Doesn't matter if they're not smart enough to tackle the problem (who is, anyway?), they will figure out as long as they keep trying. Whereas people with low confidence in most cases don't even try. And even when they try they give up too early. I totally agree with you about the "optimism" junkies. I know a lot of people like that and they all tend to have read too many self help books without taking action. However, this "fake confidence" you're talking about never comes from parents praising their child. It comes from insecure people reading too much self-help porn.


A kid is essentially as smart as a kid is. You can't push them to be smarter. You can push them to be better trained. You can push them to be more interested in academics. You can push them in many directions and as a parent you have to decide what's important.

But you can't push them to be smarter. If that's the goal then something bad is going to come out of it. Recognizing this as fairly obvious would be a good first step.


> Where is the school program that let's the bullshit pseudo concept of "smarts" fall by the wayside and instead replaces it with an atmosphere where failure IS acceptable, and that you just have to work through the hard parts?

This isn't as much better as you might think. For a lot of people, this just leaves them with "It's OK to fail". Full stop.


When I was kid people told me I was smart. I don't think I experienced any of this.


When I was a kid people told me I was smart. I'm almost 30 and _still_ struggle with _exactly_ what GP posted.


I know it isn't wise to ask about downvotes but why would people downvote me for stating what I experienced when it is relevant to the discussion? Can people not tolerate anything which deviates from the narratives in their heads?


I didn't downvote you, so I don't know why people are incapable of civil discussion.


I'm younger than you, but I feel similar. Any thoughts on how to work through it?


I'm still working on it, but letting myself be "OK", truly "OK" with not being able to finish things quickly, or with things that aren't easy, or tasks I haven't finished or had to give up on due to being in over my head or lack of time. Being "OK" with yourself is a very difficult thing.


Well there ya go, anecdotes both ways. Shall we just declare it a common potential pitfall then?


I guess. There are risks to telling a kid anything. I was fat, un-athletic and shy. I'm kind of glad I had one thing to cling to.


I think it also matters in the environment the child is told it in? For instance, being told "you're smart" and then just let to sit there and finish quickly the work it takes everyone else longer, where you just twittle your thumbs or blaze through homework as a chore so that you can do other things because "you're smart (it's ok you don't try)" can be damaging.

I just had a child. If they are "smart" (given my wife and I we can only hope!) I want to try to press them more and not just let them not try beyond a minimal amount of effort. Sure, it'll be time-intensive on my part, but I want to see them pushed. My issues come from hitting a problem I should be "smart enough" to solve but can't do it in an instant and get frustrated.


That was the point of my post. You _can't_ say this or that based on a small sample size; there will almost always be a counter example in sociology (and in most sciences).


> You tell a kid they're smart: You've immediately set them up for long term failure.

Especially b/c the really smart ones know without being told.


Yes, narcissism can manifest early.




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