We go to the pet store a lot, to play with the ferrets. My son is always trying to convince me to get one. We have had them. There was a time in my life when I traveling every week giving $15,000 speeches, and since I was never home so I tried to solve every problem with money.
The ferrets were one of those solutions. They were smelly so we bought bigger cages then they were poopy so I hired someone to clean the cages every day, then they got mean because they wanted to come out and play all the time. So I told the kids the ferrets had a terminal, contagious disease, and they had to go to ferrett hospice. Then I gave them back to the pet store.
The kids were young. I could do that then. Now we have to have more in-depth discussions, like my son tells me that the ferrets are really smart and smart pets are good pets. I used the opportunity to tell him that smart doesn’t mean good. I tell him many serial killers have high IQs. (True.) But also that being nice is way more important. It’s a good lesson. But mildly irrelevant to the ferrets so I add clean. Clean is more important than smart also. Play with the ferret at the pet store.
This is a lesson I’m obsessive about. I don’t want a kid who thinks IQ matters because I know it’s the road to hell. There’s such a huge movement to boycott testing in the US but we need that movement to fight against IQ testing too. Kids have to take IQ tests to get into lots of programs, and many parents give their kids the test “just so they know.” It’s wrong and here’s why and what to do instead.
1. Just tell your kid you know he’s smart.
One of the only things my parents did right was they kept us at home on the day we had IQ testing at school. My parents said they knew we were brilliant and they didn’t need a test to tell them. I’ve kept that with me ever since. Even when people told me I was stupid, I trusted they were wrong because my parents were so certain my IQ was high.
2. Value emotional intelligence.
The reason my parents were so certain is because both their families are rife with Aspergers. Boys, girls, grandparents – it’s everywhere. So in our family, even the people who are crazy and homeless are clearly also geniuses. The problem is that IQ does not get you very far in adult life. No one taught me this. I had to figure it out for myself, for instance, when there were no books to explain how to figure out who is lying to me on a date. If you downplay IQ you leave your child nothing to value except self-discipline, hard work, and emotional intelligence – the very things that make the most headway toward a happy life.
3. Pay heed to the perils of labels.
The Atlantic provides a survey of the perils of IQ testing and finds that the labels discourage kids from self-discovery. If you tell a kid they are super smart then they think that’s an end in itself and discourages grit and determination. Conversely if you tell kids they are bad at something because they tested that way, then they are likely to believe you – and perform accordingly. So why bother doing the test at all? (My friend sent me a comic of a monkey, elephant and penguin facing a teacher who says, “everyone has to take the same test, so let’s see how fast each of you can climb the tree.”)
4. A high score is not a free pass.
Not everyone with a high IQ is built to solve earth shattering geophysics mysteries or write game-changing math problems. Some people have a high IQ but they like to work with their hands. Or they like to interact with people. In either case, putting a high IQ kid in school so they can blow away the competition is not a guarantee of success. Many kids need to put their high IQ to use in areas where it might be masked.
5. A high IQ is meaningless without other essentials.
Remember those ferrets? We never got to teach them how to solve a maze or bond with the kids because they smelled so bad no one could get near them. And this is the problem with high IQ people: they need other, essential attributes in order to put that IQ to work in a useful way. And too often, high IQ comes with no work ethic because a child has been raised to feel special for doing nothing.
5. Understanding kid’s strengths is most important.
Nassem Taleb, author of Fooled by Randomness explains that one of the worst characteristics of an adolescent’s brain is that it tends to think in either/or models: should I do this or that? The adolescent rarely thinks, “I could choose anything. What should I choose?” As we get older, we need to push ourselves to widen the possibilities from either/or thinking.
But IQ tends to be either/or. For example, are you good at math, or science or language arts? This is how school tells you to think about IQ. But actually, a high IQ can allow you to think at a high level about infinite topics. And ironically, ignoring the whole idea of IQ is what gives a kid access to those topics.