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Why I'll Never Tell My Son He's Smart (khanacademy.org)
266 points by eroo on Aug 22, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 64 comments

I've had mixed thoughts about this over the years. Sadly you only get to raise your kids once, you can't try other scenarios and see of there is a better path.

Highly verbal kids, and that is generally kids who read a lot, will be told they are smart whether you do it or not. And if you're child's teachers are telling you how smart they are, and they ask you "Dad, my teacher said I'm really smart, do you think I'm really smart?" You'll have to decide what the narrative is.

That said, it's great to reward struggle rather than success and to emphasize that it is through failure that we value succeeding. Everyone I know who shielded their children from failure has struggled later with teaching them how to cope with failure. That isn't scientific of course, just parents swapping horror stories, but it has been highly correlated in my experience. Putting those struggles into the proper light is very important.

A less obvious but also challenging aspect of this though is that you must teach your children that natural skillsets don't determine their worth. You are good at maths but lousy at sports? Makes you no better or worse than someone with the opposite levels of skill. That is much harder as kids are always looking for ways to evaluate themselves relative to their peers. If you endorse that you can find yourself inculcating in them an unhealthy externally generated view of self worth.

> "do you think I'm really smart?"

Before the age of understanding: "In our house, instead of saying, 'you're really smart,' we say, 'you practiced a lot.'"

After the age of understanding: "We try not to say 'you're smart.' Let me show you why." Then you do a web search for [praise hard work not intelligence]; the first link is Mueller and Dweck's meta study, which has a very accessible abstract.

BTW, the rule is reversed when it comes to moral traits. "You're so honest" works better than "you behaved honestly," and specifically "don't be a cheater" works better than "don't cheat." http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/12/opinion/sunday/raising-a-m...

> Before the age of understanding: "In our house, instead of saying, 'you're really smart,' we say, 'you practiced a lot.'"

Why not "you are smart because you practiced a lot"? Wouldn't that encourage practicing?

I would follow with how you aren't just smart, but smart in some areas, and the more you practice in those (and other areas) the more smart you'll become.

We are what we do right?

No, it just works better as a reinforcement saying it that way. You want them to keep an attitude by making it a part of who they are (e.g. _you are_ honest), but with intelligence is different, you always want them to become smarter than they already are.

I'm sure there are degrees of honesty as there are degrees in intelligence.


We will have been what we will have done.

But that is slightly different. We are not passive components. Intent and frame of mind matters because it impacts future actions.

Here is what Aristotle had to say on virtue: "the virtue of a man [is] the state of character which makes a man good and which makes him do his own work well." [1] Hence we should praise the state of character, not just the ability to reach and maintain that state.

[1] Nicomachean Ethics, book 2, chapter 6 (http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/nicomachaen.2.ii.html)

I learned of Dweck's findings before I had kids, and I faced that challenge, too: Others tell my kids that they're smart, but they want reassurance that Daddy thinks they are, too.

When they were younger, I told them that they were obviously smart enough to be successful, but beyond that it was hard to tell just how smart, because the harder they worked on something, the smarter they looked, to me and everyone else.

As they've gotten older, though, I've shared Dweck's research with them and told them that the details were a little more subtle than just growth mindset vs fixed mindset.

Instead, I've told them that cognitive skills were like athletic skills: some things do come more easily to some people--different things to different people. You might not learn a certain thing as easily as your friend does, but if you work harder, you'll still learn faster. The real success will come not from being born "smart" but from being born "smart enough" and then combining hard work with strategy. Find a few things that are hard for everybody but seem to come a little more easily to you than to most people, then work like crazy on those things, and you won't just look smart, you'll look like a genius.

> And if you're child's teachers are telling you how smart they are, and they ask you "Dad, my teacher said I'm really smart, do you think I'm really smart?" You'll have to decide what the narrative is.

Couldn't you just say something like: "Yes I think you're really smart, but it is much more important that you are hard-working".

> Sadly you only get to raise your kids once,

You're not A/B testing?

Since there isn't a real definition of what "smart" means and what "intelligence" is, we could also redefine the words to mean what the author is espousing. It would be an interesting thought experiment: if you give your child a non-standard definition, would there be any impact or dissonance in their interactions with the world? I've thought about this with colors (what if my whole life I've thought "green" is something different than what everyone else thinks of as green?), but this seems like it could actually have some benefits if one tried it.

> they ask you "Dad, my teacher said I'm really smart, do you think I'm really smart?" You'll have to decide what the narrative is.

You tell them that the way they got that smart is by doing a lot of challenging things and working hard.

Chuck I don't know you, but I always look forward to your posts whenever I read the comments on a HN post. This was another excellently written one, and timely for me because I will be going through these scenarios very soon. Thank you.

Maybe you should try reading the article rather than the title.

It is perfectly ok to respond to the contents of the article, the title in case it prompts a relevant thought or both. If someone comments on the article title then it is not ok to automatically assume they did not read the article.

Chucks' comments are one of the reasons I still come here, if you're going to drive him out with stupid attacks like this then the site will be a lot worse than it is today. Have some patience and lighten up.

> Dr. Carol Dweck... has found that most people adhere to one of two mindsets: fixed or growth.

I'm sympathetic to Khan's overall POV here, but "research says there are basically two kinds of people..." always tickles my skepticism antennae.

Claims like this are so often overstated by researchers to punch up an abstract, and then so often simplified further in uncritical 3rd party reports that I wouldn't bet a sandwich on the truth of any such claim without seeing the data for myself. C.f. the widely believed and largely unsupported claims about learning styles.

Would be nice of Khan to link to the publications so we could decide for ourselves.

Mueller, C., & Dweck, C. (1998). Praise for Intelligence Can Undermine Children's Motivation and Performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75(1), 33-52, is a big one (http://web.stanford.edu/dept/psychology/cgi-bin/drupalm/syst...).

Here's a paper by Dr. Dweck on the topic [1]. Thanks to dfabulich above for suggesting the right terms to google. I'm no expert at evaluating claims in developmental psychology, but this seems like credible research after a quick read through.

Note that the claims supported by the research here are closer to something like "praise of a certain kind makes children more likely to answer followup questions a certain way," rather than "there are two well separated groups of people that adhere to meaningfully differing mindsets in a persistent way."

Claims of the first kind are much less problematic, but as far as the latter, remember that there are many, many instances where the spread within a group of people is much larger than the difference between groups of people: that should be the default assumption whenever there isn't strong evidence to the contrary.

[1] http://web.stanford.edu/dept/psychology/cgi-bin/drupalm/syst...

I think there's a flip side to this, too, though. Being told you're smart, or good at math, or whatever, can be a motivator. It can encourage you to seek out and develop that talent, and also to persevere when things are difficult. At least for me, personally, when faced with a tough math concept I would think "well Ive been told all my life I'm good at math and I've been pretty good up until now so I'm sure I will be able to figure this out."

Giving negative motivation to a kid, saying "you're stupid," is recognized to sometimes be a self-fulfilling prophecy. There's no reason that "you're smart" can't work in the same way. I would not be surprised if a lot of this phenomenon of children being negatively motivated from positive feedback ends up having a different explanation than the one posited here.

Kids are exactly what you expect them to be. Never mind what you say; its how you treat them. As a youth leader for 20 years, we've had tremendous performance out of our youth group. Why? Because that's the expectation of the leaders and the older kids in the group. The young ones desperately want to live up to that.

So as long as its age appropriate and reachable, give your kids goals to live up to. If that means telling them they're smart, then tell them that.

The problem with "you're smart" is that it does not reward you for the habits that helps you improve and continue to achieve that state, but for an achievement which may very well have involved little effort on your behalf.

If you are currently coasting when you are given that praise, then the implicit lesson is that it's ok not to work hard. It comes back to bite you once you're eventually hitting real challenges.

If you praise someone for being smart after they've actually put in lots of hard work, perhaps it'd work better. But praising the effort itself is "safer" because it works in either case.

Also, to the extent this functions as a "self fulfilling prophecy" it is still better to get people to work hard, because you can always work harder, but it's not at all obvious that a kid will make the connection between praise for "being smart" to putting in more effort to continue getting that praise.

For my part, I feel that the fact I was regularly praised and rewarded for my achievements as a kid, rather than for effort, had a bad effect on my study habits that took me years to undo once I started being challenged. All through school I basically got reinforced that I should expect great results and praise for pretty much no effort, so I got used to slacking off. I rarely revised for tests more than an hour or two. I expected to be finished with a test in less than 1/5 of the allotted time. Because that was just how things were, and I knew I'd do well enough to be praised for it. It was all very well meaning, to be sure, and I don't blame anyone but myself, but then I started university, and basically had to learn to study from scratch because I couldn't coast through every course any more, and it was a nightmare.

> There's no reason that "you're smart" can't work in the same way.

The difference is that exercising intelligence takes a lot of hard work, whereas anyone can "accept stupidity." So it's definitely not the same kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, even if it is a self-fulfilling prophecy (though all of the research I have seen claims otherwise, that people who are praised for their intelligence tend to give less of an effort).

I imagine there's a difference between using "you're smart" as a motivator, as you describe, and using it as an exclamation of praise for something that has already been accomplished (as opposed to praising how hard the person worked toward what they accomplished).

Yeah. For example, if your parents freak out over small failures, you will learn to freak out over small failures. And how about the message that it's helpful to be "smart" and work hard?

I found this to be very insightful, as I am not familiar with the cited research. It brings to mind my own memories of growing up, and how being told how "smart," I was could actually act as a hindrance.

As the article notes, I was only praised when I got a correct answer, or used a big word without stumbling. In one particular memory, I am afraid of taking a new mathematics placement test in school -- not because of the difficulty, but precisely because I had gotten a perfect score on the last one. There was no room to grow, if I didn't get them all right again, would that make me not "smart?"

Very simple changes in the language we use with young children could possibly avoid that kind of anxiety in bright youth.

Here's the other side: Kids are often cruel. Kids say demeaning things to other kids. One of the frequent ones is "You're stupid". And some kids are more emotionally fragile than others. I don't want my fragile kid to hear "You're stupid", perhaps frequently, without it being countered by affirmation that she is not in fact stupid.

But I also don't want that to be the equivalent of "participation awards" in Little League. For it to be of any real value, it has to go with teaching her how to actually think.

I find this campaign/propaganda dangerous.

I only know of Japan and the US, but as someone who went to one of the most prestigious secondary schools in Japan and universities in the US, I have seen well-educated, smart people with "growth mindsets" struggle later in their lives.

1. Regardless of what we say, in many corners of adult life, results are valued over processes. While a superior process has a higher likelihood of yielding a superior result, this is often not the case, and in a perversely Murphy's law-esque manner, it turns out to be false at critical junctures of one's life. And the deeper the growth mindset is ingrained into you, the more disappointed/despaired you find the situation and feel incapacitated and betrayed. Of course, a singular emphasis on results with no consideration for process is equally bad. Most people find their own local optimum between the two extrema, and I don't see how a campaign towards one end of the spectrum is all that meaningful or worthy.

2. This probably sounds terrible, but not everyone is "smart" as measured by academic performance. Certainly effort is a huge part of the equation, but some minds are better wired for academics than others. And the longer you work at it and hence surround yourself with qualified peers, the more apparent it becomes that not everyone is working equally hard. This realization usually does't mesh well with the emphasis on process from one's formative education, and many people become jaded/hopeless. (And of course, even within academic subjects, there are individual variances). While it is important to try, it is also the responsibility of educators (and adults) to see if the child's potential lies somewhere else, or to borrow Mr. Khan's words, to see if the child can be tenacious and gritty about something other than academics.

Dangerous? Everyone, even people who aren't smart, can try hard and get better. The point of the article is not that struggle, per se, is to be valued above the result, but rather that when people are trying at their limits, they are learning.

School is so artificial; everyone is solving the same problems to which the teacher already knows the answers. It's better to be "smart" than to work hard, in that situation. When you leave school, if you're doing it right, you'll be thrust into a situation where no one knows the answer and you're responsible for finding it. Doesn't matter how smart you are, everyone from the greatest minds on down finds themselves in a situation where they have a challenging task at hand.

>Everyone, even people who aren't smart, can try hard and get better.

Yes, I agree. What I tried to convey is the importance of balance between hard work and a degree of fatalism.

You can't solve a lot of things with hard work, but many American elites I know are wired to think otherwise - until they start to fail classes in college or can't advance anywhere near as fast at their jobs. When life hits you hard, accepting things as-is and not trying to work even harder might prove to bring a happier outcome.

>School is so artificial; everyone is solving the same problems to which the teacher already knows the answers.

That actually wasn't my experience. I had a lot of fun in junior high, high school and college, and while there was an element of sycophancy, my education was largely intellectually honest, challenging and rewarding. I would say it was at the first job out of school where I learned the important skill of "just doing it because your superior told you to" to earn credibility and trust.

I think I partially agree, but would rephrase it as this: It's important to pick your battles. Promoting only innate talent can lead to lazy adults with unfulfilled potential. However, promoting only hard work can lead to depressed adults who keep wondering why more hard work isn't working.

The key is balance and part of growing up is recognizing where hard work should be focused on. Parents can help their kids with this by observing what they're good at. And it can also help teach an important life lesson which is knowing when to cut your losses and move on.

But this discussion ignores the third component of success which is opportunity (luck). Hard work and talent are useless without the chance to do something with it. It's important to teach this as well since without knowing this, you could have adults who are hard working and know what to focus on, but just wait for opportunity to come to them. Opportunity is a dice roll and you have to keep going out there and rolling that dice until you get a good one. And I think knowing this teaches humility as well which is important for social cohesion. Some people just get a lot of bad rolls and society should help in such circumstances.

Thanks for the great summary. I totally agree with the whole opportunity thing.

There's some extra context. In Khan's book "The One World Schoolhouse", he mentions some children who are branded "slow" under many traditional curricula. But at some later point, they lurch forward, ahead of the rest of the class. (As if they had some confusion which caused them to think more deeply; then emerged with a deeper understanding.)

My 7yo is really obviously smart and she knows it - top of class in everything. But so are her parents. So we're hammering home that smart is not good enough and you have to learn to do things, acquire skills.

(Her mum is an excellent role model in this, 'cos she's basically competent in a dizzying array of small skills. "If you want to be good at everything like Mummy is, this is how you learn it!")

Basically the hard part is capturing her interest. Anything she's interested in, she will absolutely kill. Anything she's not interested in, she won't bother with. That bit she gets from me ...

It also reminds us to set a good example: learn things and do them. Because it doesn't matter what you say, it's the example you present.

That said, I was most calmed by the many, many studies that show that, as long as you don't actually neglect the kid, they'll probably turn out how they were going to anyway. So helicopter parenting really is completely futile.

We've caught her at midnight reading books more than once, so I'll call that "huge success" ;-)

"The Internet is a dream for someone with a growth mindset."

Exactly what I feel. Days are becoming too short for such amount of interesting things to do and to learn (Hacker News, Quora, Designer News, Coursera, Khan Academy, TED, Project Guttenberg... the list is long, and it's growing...)

The article makes me sad.

What makes me sad is the idea that not telling a child she smart is justified so that the child will meet the parent's expectations. Telling a smart child they are smart is honest and kind and humane. I believe that in the long run the attitudes toward honesty and humility and empathy are the most important things I instill as a parent.

Some things are easy for smart people and not acknowledging that as a factor in my child's successes would be dishonest when discussing those successes. It is akin to not acknowledging that a pitcher of cold Kool-Aid is not the product of economic circumstance.

Some success is comes from pure good fortune, some comes from just showing up, and some comes from hard work. Talking honestly about when and how each plays a role is my job as a parent. I hope my child develops the ability to distinguish challenge from a checklist of busy work.

It's not either or. A child can understand that some successes come because the task is easy for them. Others will come from hard work. The can tell the difference between watching an addition video and earning an orange belt.

That said, my standard for good parenting is forgiving. Just trying to do a better job than one's own parents is hard enough. My parenting advice, for what it's worth, is to treat children as antonymous moral agents, fully capable of making intelligent decisions and able to learn from mistakes. Talk with them honestly as such and avoid deceit even when they are small.

Because that is when the foundation for their life as a teenager and adult is laid.

I don't have kids, but I think I would tell them the truth. First, it's difficult to define "smart" as it's a conjunction of many skills. But even for one given skill, you may be the best in your class or your school, but there are likely millions that are much better than you. No need to worry too much where you lie and try to do the best with what you have.

> "Researchers have known for some time that the brain is like a muscle; that the more you use it, the more it grows. They’ve found that neural connections form and deepen most when we make mistakes doing difficult tasks rather than repeatedly having success with easy ones. What this means is that our intelligence is not fixed, and the best way that we can grow our intelligence is to embrace tasks where we might struggle and fail."

I wonder to which extent this is correct. Sure, it would be nice if it was the case. It's a nice myth that anybody can achieve anything with the proper amount of work. I see it all the time in fields such as maths or music. Some people are naturally so much better than others than even a lifetime wouldn't be enough to catch up.

I'm 33, started learning to play piano about two years ago. I don't always practice consistently, but I'm still improving over time. I can play a few short piece well enough to put a smile on my face. Importantly, I've noticed how learning to play piano has improved my understanding of music, improved my pattern recognition, and hand-eye coordination. While I might not have aspirations to ever become a really good piano player, taking on something I'm not naturally good at has been a boon for me.

So, yes - I agree it's a myth that anyone can achieve anything with enough work, but that shouldn't necessarily stop you from trying. Taking on a task you aren't naturally good at can be extremely satisfying and enable mind-brain expansion in ways I didn't realise possible.

My four year old daughter has had both a violin and a harp in her hands since she was three. My plan is to be able to hack at the keyboard well enough to play the occasional tune with her. That would be beautiful. It's been really interesting to observe how my motivations have changed since having a child.

It's not that "anybody can achieve anything", but that we can almost always get far better at almost anything if we put effort into it.

E.g. I do powerlifting to stay fit. I don't think I'll ever be a world class athlete, but through consistency through the last ten years, I'm lifting at an advanced level for my weight/age class on all my lifts.

Could everyone do that? Probably not. Thought most people can likely get to my level with enough effort.

More importantly, every untrained person can improve massively, because the average untrained person is so massively far from their potential.

I lift 10-15 times more today than I did when I started. Unless you've got severe health problems or disabilities, start at a very advanced age, or a very good starting point, most people will "easily" be able to increase their lifts by at least a factor of 5 in a few years with 30-40 minutes 2-3 times a week. In fact, most total beginners can double or even triple their working weight within a month or two.

The same applies for most mental disciplines as well: We may not all make it to expert level in every discipline, but we can almost always multiply our starting skill level enough times over with some effort that most people who have not put in any effort in the field will be impressed.

This is why Salman Khan is one of (if not) the greatest teachers of our generation. When I read this article, I remembered when Khan Academy first started... it was the first attempt to make good education free and easily accessible, exactly the way it should be. Hats off to you sir, thanks for another great lesson I will teach my kids some day :).

While I wish the best for all children, I feel like this kind of discourse has a negative effect on the very intelligent. By downplaying the significance of intelligence, it trivializes the gifts of the truly intelligent, and places an excessive emphasis in the virtue of hard work. I see on HN all the time the claim that hard work beats intelligence. But I have never really worked that hard, I just have an extraordinary ability in mathematics.

When I was a child, I was told that I was very smart (which I was) and pressured to fulfill my potential. Other children may be pressured to be hard working and studious. I would rather celebrate people who are naturally gifted, and also people who choose to work hard. What is important is that people's actions arise naturally from their own desires, not from external pressure or manipulation.

Aaron Schwartz introduced me to Dweck. It has been an integral part of my life ever since: http://www.aaronsw.com/weblog/dweck

Regardless of any received training, smart people don't usually struggle as much as normal people when they are presented with a new, different kind of problem. That's something you cannot learn.

Even a kid's brain will not "grow" more or less depending on what kind of stimulus he is exposed to. But it doesn't mean it's bad to reward and compliment your kid for struggling and working hard instead of just being naturally good at something. It helps the child to build a character and face problems instead of giving up. The article is right about that.

There are also many ways to get a better access to the full capacity of your brain. It's not like the movie "Lucy", but many conditions may prevent you for using it to its full potential: Age, injury or illness, sleep deprivation, stress and exhaustion, lack of nutrients, drug abuse and chemical unbalances, etc. Some of those factors present problems that can be treated or even prevented, and you will (most of the time) function at the same cognitive level as a careless smarter person.

Also, the fact that there is no way you can alter your intelligence without altering your DNA doesn't mean you can't use it to discover and apply better problem-solving patterns for a particular discipline, making yourself effectively smarter.

I wasn't aware of this research. Reflecting on my own schooling experience, however, there is something pleasantly intuitive about it.

I'm always impressed with Salman Khan's work.

A readable popular article about this research, "The Effort Effect," was published right after Professor Carol Dweck moved her research base from Columbia University to Stanford University.[1] And Dweck has written a full-length popular book, quite readable and helpful for parents, called Mindset: The New Psychology of Success[2] that I recommend to parents all the time.

[1] http://alumni.stanford.edu/get/page/magazine/article/?articl...

[2] http://mindsetonline.com/


One of the first Aaron Swartz essays I read (first of many) was on this very topic. He gives great details about how she experimented with children and games, and how their mindsets manifested themselves, and how she came to her conclusions about fixed vs growth.


To me, the possibility that anyone can move from fixed to growth is astounding [1] ... that fact itself positively brims with the possibilities it opens up, if only a person can realize they're not stuck and they can expand their horizons.

Khan's description of "interventions" is interesting.

[1] I also suspect the converse is equally possible, given the right circumstances ... which is worth keeping in mind, I 'spose.

Great article, lousy title. The point he was making is that smart people are those that appreciate learning more than knowing. The reality is life is very much that - successful people everywhere are those who are always willing to push themselves beyond their comfort zone.

There is a sort of analogue to this: parents praising their children as beautiful/pretty or brave/strong. Both vacuously reduce the childs ability to reflect genuinely on their strengths and their source of self-worth. Beauty (or the appreciation of) becomes solely reduced to the physical (and external), and courage reduced to dare-devilism/ego-centrism instead of the appreciation of fear and acting to overcome it.

In a related fashion, it's irritating to observe random strangers who exclaim "you are so cute!" to our daughter, e.g. in stores or coffee shops, but then don't have anything to say when she starts talking about her latest interest in biology or astronomy. They think they're giving a compliment, and they ignore the actual substance of the person in front of them.

I wish they would hear the child, engage in conversation that builds on what they say, not what they look like or how they're dressed. And stop that "you're so cute" thing, as it undermines the development of a healthy sense of self-esteem.

> Fixed mindsets mistakenly believe that people are either smart or not; that intelligence is fixed by genes. People with growth mindsets correctly believe that capability and intelligence can be grown through effort, struggle and failure.

Can intelligence be gained though? I agree that skill can only be gained through effort/practice/etc. But intelligence ... isn't intelligence more like a natural talent than something you can gain?

Much like you can't just train yourself to have a beautiful singing voice or big boobs or absolute pitch hearing, I don't think you can train yourself to be more intelligent. Smarter, yes, intelligenter, not really. It's a talent, not a skill.

Saying that your potential intelligence is fixed by genes (which is all the data on a genetic component to intelligence shows) is not at all the same as saying that you are at your potential and will never change. Whatever your potential is, you're only going to reach it by effort, struggle, and failure.

Interesting, I always thought that's what intelligence was - the raw processing power achievable by your brain. And smartness was correlated with that, bit mostly dependent on socioeconomic factors.

Everything else you say is just the difference between talent and skill, which is why I used different terms for those in my post. Intelligence is the talent, smartness is the skill. But judging by the downvotes that might just be my idiolect.

> the raw processing power achievable by your brain

But "achievable" is not the same as "achieved". To actually achieve the full raw processing power that your brain is capable of achieving, you have to work at it--not just in terms of developing skills, but in terms of realizing the processing power. Your brain is not like a computer with a fixed amount of CPU and memory that you just have to load with software. If you don't exercise it, it doesn't develop; exercising it doesn't just make you more skilful at using the processing power you have, it actually increases the processing power. Yes, there's a limit imposed by your genetic makeup as to how much exercise can increase the processing power; but no child is going to be anywhere near that limit, simply because the child is still growing and developing. (I would argue that most adults aren't really at the limit either, any more than most adults are at the limit for any capability. Few people have the genetic makeup to run a 100-meter dash in under 10 seconds; but how many people can run a 100-meter dash in the shortest possible time for their genetic makeup, whatever that time is?)

In other words, while there is a concept of "raw processing power achievable", I don't think it's a very useful concept by itself, because people can't help jumping from "the maximum raw processing power you can ever achieve is genetically fixed" to "the actual processing power you have right now is genetically fixed", and the latter is not only false, it's pernicious, because it creates the worst possible mindset.

That is like talking about the raw power achievable by a set of muscles. Of course there are some genetic limit to how strong I could make my biceps, but I and most people can probably increase the strength of those muscles many times over if we thought it worthwhile to spend the time and effort to do so.

I don't know... what's the scientific evidence? I'm sure someone's done some study on identical twins that grew up in totally different environments.

I kept being told "You're smart/gifted" when I did something clever, and "You need to try harder" when I didn't. Left me with some self esteem issues.

so pardon my natural question: was Dweck's work replicated?

We have believed for decades in the stanford prison experiment, and it was faulty.

This is common knowledge by now. I didn't even have to read the article, just skimmed it. These types of articles really cater to people who were often told they were smart when they were little, or found school to not be difficult.

I have even seen non-educated mothers state this fact even while playing poker, "yeah I never tell my son he's smart, I congratulate his hard work instead because it changes his mindset".

I've seen it a few times in pop-science books (like Gladwell), so that's probably where we're getting it from (and seeing Gladwell passages be cited elsewhere online)

So, I should rather lie?

No, you'd rather focus on what he does that what he is.

Yes, he does think intelligently and he is a smart boy. If he was dumb, whatever I do, he'll stay that regardless. If he's smart, he'll find the way whatever I do anyway. I hope you get my point. I think way too many parents waste their time going in circles and overthinking what they should do - follow my simple logic and life will be blissful for everyone. Don't worry too much - there's little you can do anyway! Plus, even if I told him that he's average, everybody else (including his teacher) tell him that he's not. Well, I'm not telling him that he's a genius and I try to explain the difference between stupid (the majority of the people), smart (10%), and geniuses (<1%). At least he's smart enough to get his! :)

If my kid is smart he'll figure it out for himself.

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