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5 Myths About Raising Intelligent Kids

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July 18, 2012

In today’s competitive world parents would like to give their kids all the advantages to ensure that they grow up smart.  They devour any information they find that purports to give tips on how to raise intelligent kids.

Unfortunately, some of the information out there is not rooted in facts. These myths are usually distributed from companies with ulterior motives and products to sell, from “questionable parenting experts,” or even from old wives tales and common belief.

Below are some of the myths that many parents view as facts, but have actually been debunked by research and scientific studies:

If the parents are not smart, the kids will not be smart too.

Many parents believe the “popular knowledge” that intelligence is mostly “inherited”.  They accept that their child’s intelligence level is already in the genes, and the development is predetermined by nature.  They also assume there is little that the environment, nurturing, or hard parenting work can do to change your kid’s capabilities.

Richard Nesbitt, professor of psychology at the University of Michigan and author of Intelligence and How to Get It has gathered research that shows that human intelligence is almost infinitely flexible.

What heredity does is establish a range of kids’ intellectual potential, and this range is very wide.  Where kids will fall within the range is affected by their specific environmental experiences and intellectual stimulation. Heredity also predisposes a child to be susceptible to environmental influences.  Some children learn specific skills faster than others.  For example, some children learn to read with minimal help, while others require more effort from their parents and teacher.  What this suggests is that the education of children should be tailored to kids’ individual needs as much as possible.

Kids learn to read naturally, and they eventually learn to read given enough time.

Many parents have the idea that learning to read is like learning language.  They believe they can just expose their kids to a literacy-rich environment, and the kids will naturally pick up reading.  Also, they believe that children develop reading skills at their own pace.

The truth is that learning to read is one of the most unnatural things that humans do.  Although it is true that children should be taught to read when they are ready developmentally, adults should not merely wait for children to develop reading skills in their own time.  Parents and educators should make a conscious effort to teach their children to read.

Studies also suggest that children who are taught and who have learned to read early continuously increase their literacy gap over time compared to those that do not have well-developed reading skills.  In time bridging the gap requires a lot of remedial instruction for the child with less literacy skills.  If a child does not develop good reading skills by the fourth grade, the odds that he will be able to catch up are slim.

Even before they are ready to read, children should be exposed to reading by reading to them. It motivates them to be receptive to learn reading at an early age, among other benefits.  If they experience reading to be a fun and satisfying experience, they will naturally be receptive to doing the difficult task of learning how to read.

If kids are praised for being smart, they will continue to be smart.

It seems common sense to believe that when kids are praised for being smart, it will reinforce their being smart.  Research, however, suggests otherwise.

When kids are praised for being smart, the kids believe that their achievement is the result of their being naturally intelligent.  Because of this, they are led to believe that being successful comes naturally and is not within their control. This leads them to think that making an effort is not an important factor for success.

Children who are complimented on their intelligence are also much more likely to run away from challenging new tasks that they could learn from. This is because they do not want to see themselves as deficient in anything, or experience situations that contradict their image of themselves as being “great”.

So instead of praising kids for being smart, it is a better idea to praise them for their effort – even if they fail.

Listening to Mozart can make babies smart.

It is natural for people to look for shortcuts and “magic” formulas to make their babies grow up smart, and one of those that were touted was to listen to Mozart.

In 1993, researchers at the University of California, Irvine seem to show that after listening to 10 minutes of a Mozart sonata, student’s IQ scores improved by 8-9 points and lasted for 10-15 minutes. The findings, which were later dubbed the Mozart effect, have spawned an industry that sells parents the idea (as well as CD’s) that making their babies listen to Mozart will make their babies smart.

This finding has since been debunked.   A duplicate study, for example, led by Kenneth Steele, a psychology professor at Appalachian State University, could not “find any kind of effect at all,” even though their study tested more students than the original study. They concluded that “there is little evidence to support intervention programs based on the existence of the Mozart effect.”

More debunking of the Mozart effect can be found here.

Having babies and toddlers watch “educational” videos like “Baby Einstein” and “Brainy Baby” series can make them smart.

The “educational” video series for babies and toddlers are one of the most successful commercial products that claim to help make children smart.  They may also be the most worthless.

In fact, these videos are probably even harmful. Study after study shows that watching TV, even if it includes educational programming like Sesame Street delays language development in babies and toddlers.

“Babies require face-to-face interaction to learn,” says Dr. Vic Strasburger, professor of pediatrics at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics. “They don’t get that interaction from watching TV or videos. In fact, the watching probably interferes with the crucial wiring being laid down in their brains during early development.”

These “educational” videos have the most harmful effect on babies 8 to 16 months old, the age at which language skills are starting to form. “The more videos they watched, the fewer words they knew,” says Dr. Christakis of the University of Washington. “These babies scored about 10% lower on language skills than infants who had not watched these videos.

For older children, educational TV shows can have both positive and negative effects.

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