The Secret Handbook 4 Teens

Tell Your Parents 2 Stop Telling U You’re Smart!

“You’re so smart!”…research shows that such feedback from parents actually undermines academic success rather than enhance it….[A Stanford researcher] found that kids who are told they’re “smart” actually underperform in subsequent tasks, by choosing easier tasks to avoid evidence that they are not smart…kids who are praised not for their smarts but for their effort – with praise specific to the effort made and not overblown – develop a “growth mindset. They learn that their effort is what led to their success, and if they continue to try, over time they’ll improve and achieve more things.”  – Excerpt from the book “How to Raise an Adult” by JulieLythcott-Haims

Do your parents or teachers or other adults tell you you’re smart? You got an A! You’re so smart! You figured out how to solve that problem! You’re so smart! You’re taking honors classes! You’re so smart! It’s nice to be told you’re smart but if that’s all you’re ever told, you may have problems later in life. Studies show that students, especially girls, often think of the label “smart” as unchangeable and static. If you’re told you’re “smart” and then you hit a challenge and struggle, it’s quite likely that you’ll give up because being “smart” is some sort of cut off and if you can’t figure it out, you just must not be “smart” enough. You may even take easier classes or not challenge yourself (per the quote above) because you don’t want anything to interfere with your “smart” name tag. This is a real shame.

Here’s the thing. Smart is just a label and not a very helpful one. I know I’m smart but I don’t remember people telling me that when I was younger. I was encouraged to work hard, to pursue my dreams and that there was nothing in life that I couldn’t accomplish if I set my mind to it. It’s no different for you. Whether you think you’re smart or someone has told you that you are or you aren’t, don’t let that label stifle you. Resolve to work harder. Resolve to try different tactics to see what works and what doesn’t. Resolve to ask for help. Get a tutor. Get a coach. Talk to a teacher or helpful adult. Try different things. Do what you love. Stretch.

Here’s an example of how this can all work. My daughter just finished an online math class. Yup. One solid month of 12 hour days of math, five days a week. She hated it. She’s a straight A student and very good in math but, for the first time, she failed some quizzes, she struggled, and she didn’t immediately “get it” like she had in other classes. In retrospect, I don’t think I ever told her that it would be ok because she was “smart.” Instead, we encouraged her to work harder. We told her she needed to figure out where her weaknesses were and where she needed to spend more time studying. We suggested that she might need to develop different study habits but that as long as she was working to the best of her ability, we would be happy with the outcome. Did she get an A? Nope. Did her grades steadily improve throughout the month? Yup. Did she work to the best of her ability? Yup. Did she learn how to take on a challenge? Yup. As a parent it was hard to watch her struggle and not step in to tell her she was “smart” but I have never been prouder – truly, I have never been prouder – and never been so thrilled with a solid B on her report card.

So, when someone pats you on the head and tells you you’re “smart” just smile kindly and know that you really are courageous, hard working, dedicated, devoted, resilient and solidly encased in a stunning pair of “ass kicking” pants that allow you to take on any challenge and, in fact, the world. Don’t be smart. Be your best self. That’s all the matters.

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