How tall will my child be?

Tall people make more money as adults. There is lots of great research about this topic, but the most interesting, to me, is that on average, tall people contribute more to a team than shorter people in a business environment. Probably this is because tall people have more self-confidence because they get treated better because they are tall: geometrically multiplying advantages, or a sentence as an homage to Escher.

I was reading about how tall different flowers grow (yes, that’s my garden right now. I’m so happy,) and I kept finding links at the bottom of articles that offer to tell me how tall my kids will be. Finally I clicked. I want to tell my kids that they determine their own fate, because teaching kids they are the locus of control is essential to a happy life. But in secret I think a lot depends on height and I want to know.

Like IQ. I wouldn’t want to tell my kids’ their IQ, but I had it tested, just so I could relax about how smart they are. So much of parenting is not measurable, so I get as many measurements as I can to assure me my kids are okay.

Not that I know what “okay” really means. But I do know what assurance means. It means being able to breath without a tight stomach and a locked jaw.

School is full of measurements, which makes it enticing to anyone who wants assurance that they are doing a good job. When parents give up raising their own kids for all the hours of the school day, they get something in return that tells them it’s a good idea. Measurements are school’s secret weapon because measurements reassure parents’ weak spot.

Parents can never point to numbers to show they were a good parent but schools are all about numbers and they inundate parents with numbers that are essentially irreproachable since parents have no numbers to counter with. And then, boom: parents have numbers to show they are doing a good job (and they have a bumper sticker that says their kid is an honors student).

An illustration of the dangers of an education-by-numbers mentality is the new findings about grit. Angela Duckworth’s book, Grit, is a New York Times bestseller. People love reading it because Duckworth assures us we don’t have to be the victim of meager talent or lousy genes.

But the book also reveals to us how to help our kids to be more successful as adults. So of course schools are getting involved. Daniel Engber (who  comes up with really interesting topics on Slate that are so fun to read) reports that California public schools are creating a curricula for grit and a way to measure whether teachers have been successful teaching it.

But Duckworth responded by saying grit is not a thing you can measure, because so much of it is about failure. How do you measure if a failure is good or bad? You just keep going.

So what I realized is that we have widespread agreement that we want kids to learn soft skills; positive outlook, grit, diligence, all these things that even university research teams struggle to measure. Which means there is no point trying to teach them in school because school is structured to evaluate everything with a clear means to measurement. The things that do matter to schools (things that can be measured, like height and IQ) do not depend on the efforts of school.

If only schools could make kids taller. Now that would be a reason to send your kid there.


24 replies
  1. Syd
    Syd says:

    let me guess, you’re tall. Let me guess, your kids have a high IQ. And you think school is putting undue pressure on kids?

    • Bookish Jen
      Bookish Jen says:

      Penelope seems to have a problem with anyone who isn’t exactly like her, as if these people are horribly flawed. Among them include, parents who don’t homeschool, introverts, people without kids, and now people who are vertically-challenged.

      • Jessica from Down Under
        Jessica from Down Under says:

        These two comments are a bit weird, in my opinion.

        The first: are you trying to say that Penelope is putting more pressure on her kids than a school would (how exactly?), when she said she gets them tested for IQ or finds out their future height to ease her own anxiety and doesn’t let them know the results?

        And the second: if you have been reading Penelope for a while now, you would realise that she is only criticising schooling parents to ease her own anxiety (not because she hates schooling parents); she wishes she was an INFJ (introvert); I’ve never seen her comment on people with no kids; and she doesn’t hate vertically-challenged people (she was just reading some research about how tall people usually earn more than others and wondered how that fit in with the people around her). And the three or four main other adults she talks about semi-regularly on her blogs (the Farmer, Melissa, Cassie and her editor) are all very different to her and she doesn’t hate them or think they are flawed because they are not like her.

        I think you guys could do with a bit more compassion – parenting is hard and most parents have varying degrees of anxiety because they care about their kids and hope they will grow up happy and healthy and have enough money to live comfortably and they won’t know for many years if everything they did will turn out ok in the end. This comment does not mean I hate people who don’t have kids; it means try if we all try to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, the world will be a nicer place.

        • Lc
          Lc says:

          All she does is brag and diss on people. It’s decent writing and I only read it for homeschool advice. Her career isn’t successful enough for me to follow that element.

          • Jessica from Down Under
            Jessica from Down Under says:

            Woah, hold on a minute…her ‘bragging’ is to convince herself that she’s not doing too badly. She doesn’t so much ‘diss’ people as ‘observe people out loud’. I’m guessing she doesn’t know you personally, so anything she says should not be taken personally by you – just read the writing and take what fits or is helpful, and leave the rest without being nasty.

            The last comment about her career was mean…you totally ‘dissed’ her! Man, feel like I’m back in primary school today…

          • Susan
            Susan says:

            LOL. As if your career is bigger and better.

            I think you’re one troll commenting under multiple names.

  2. Syd
    Syd says:

    PS I met mark zuckerberg once. I towered over him. I make almost 100K a year. maybe I should ask for a height raise! My boss is shorter than me and he’s a dude. I think it’s absurd to think being taller really means D on your earnings. id sooner say it has an effect on the number of women who will date you but not on your earning power. Its pretty mild to nonexistent.

  3. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    I’m 5″11, but I say 5″10 because in my mind that is the perfect height. I don’t know if being taller means I earn more, but it does mean I have more leg to shave. and I can gain 10lbs like short people gain 3. it also means I know who is going bald, and that buying jeans is crazy….

  4. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I’m glad to see you’re posting again more frequently. That makes me happy because I enjoy reading your posts. Your flowers look great. You get an A+ as here on your blog, school doesn’t count. Your community does.

  5. Bostonian
    Bostonian says:

    I could point to the number of hours my son, whose voice is now changing, spent singing at the piano today, practicing moving his throat flaps and tongue to modify tone and overtones, in the middle of his break. I have Anna-Maria Hefele to thank for this fascination. My house sounds beautiful. What number was that again? Dammit, I’m back to quality.

    In one of our many conversations today, we talked about wanting things, and about how the biggest factor in whether you’ll be able to learn or master something is whether you want it and you work at it. That’s more important than school, more important than curriculum. Singing, he wants. And he works.

    Anyway, wicked tall. I’m guessing 6’6. He’s 5’8 now, and he just turned 12.

    • bea
      bea says:

      Woah! That’s tall for a 12 year old! My daughter is 11 and after hearing everybody comment about how tall she’s gotten, we finally got around to measuring her the other day. She’s grown over an inch this summer and is kissing 5’4.

      I’m the shortest in my family at 5’7 (Had an uncle who was 7′ tall. No kidding.) and my husband is 6′ and comes from tall stock as well. I’ve always hoped she was going to be on the tall side, but I’m not sure why. I wasn’t aware of all the research on the matter. According to that link she’ll be 5’10.

      Height aside, my 11 year old now wears the same size shoe as I do and that just freaks me right out.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        The link said all 3 of my girls will be 5’10”!!! I’m 5’4″ and my husband is 6’4″ so I felt like it was just averaging our heights.

        My 9 year old and I share shoes, and sadly she is going to be catching up to my height soon. Sniff.

        • Jessica from Down Under
          Jessica from Down Under says:

          I’m 5’4″ (Caucasian) and my husband 5’3″ (Asian), and it said that the only son I have recent height and weight measurements for would end up about 5’9″, so I don’t think it only averages out the parents’ height.

          I heard somewhere that all boys end up taller than their mums, which was a bit of a relief for me for their sake.

          And there’s also this:

          • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
            YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

            Ok. Maybe I am in short person denial that my kids will be so much taller than me. Haha! However, I was surprised that one of my kids still came out at 5’10” since she is usually at the bottom left of the bell curve for height and weight on most growth charts.

          • Jessica from Down Under
            Jessica from Down Under says:

            Oops, apparently I’m 5’7″ and hubby 5’6″ (but son’s height prediction still 5’9″)…pls excuse, we don’t use imperial measures Down Under and I converted ours incorrectly :)

  6. Interested reader
    Interested reader says:

    I’m petite and very successful. My husband is 5’6 and a doctor with a thriving practice. Together we earn a lot. We have three kids and I doubt any will be tall. Our shortest is the shortest in his class but he’s in math Olympiads and also plays cello well not professionally. He’s so smart why would I worry because of his height. I worry more about teasing but he’s got a great personality and so far nothing serious. His friends rib him though. He’s 13 no gf yet but it’s ok. Our oldest is choosing between Ivy League and technical school. Barely 5’8. Our girl is barely five foot but a beauty whos beating them off w a stick. It’s a bad thing for parents to watch. Beauty is not so great for women because I think it makes women work not as hard. I’m not as pretty as my daughter. She looks like my husbands side much nicer looking. Maybe leaders are taller because of the imposing factor but since when are leaders the only highly successful people? Seriously have you noticed doctors are taller? If you stroke yourself on the back for being tall then do it for having blonde hair or a big rack or no wrinkles the list is endless.

  7. Jim Grey
    Jim Grey says:

    This post makes me think of that great late-90s cartoon Invader Zim, a hilarious stranger-in-a-strange-land tale of an inept alien from planet Irk who is trying to singlehandedly take over Earth. On his home planet, the leader(s) are the Almighty Tallest — the tallest Irken on the planet, regardless of qualifications. Google “invader zim tallest” for more.

  8. Caitlin Timothy
    Caitlin Timothy says:

    Per your recommendation, I’m practicing giving respect by telling you that your garden is lovely, and that I’m so happy you’re back- I’ve missed you!

    Grit is such an interesting thing to think about. One person described what I think grit means as “having batteries.” And it seems like batteries are personality dependent. Like, success/failure means different things for different people, so having grit/batteries of course would, too.

  9. Cindy
    Cindy says:

    Without looking at or reading any statistics, I have always known that if you are a 6′ tall white male, you have an automatic edge in business and social situations.

    Disclaimer: I hope this isn’t offensive or hurtful to anyone, that is not my intention. These are just my observations based on personal experience in the corner of the world I live in.

    I noticed it first in grade school when the tall boys were practically worshipped. They stood up to talk, everyone listened. In high school when the boys shoot up. The tall ones get the best spots on the sports teams, and they get noticed in the halls. In business, all they have to do is walk into a room with a degree of confidence, have a decent handshake and bam, almost instant deference and respect is shown them. Put him in a suit and the sky is the limit. Whatever comes out of their mouths after that is held in higher regard than just about anybody in the room.

    My ex husband fit that physical profile and he could say the most ignorant things and people actually listened intently, while I would be interrupted endlessly and dismissed.

    Years ago I was chosen to go onstage at a Tony Robbins event. Granted, the guy is not just tall, he’s huge. But, when he went down the line of the 5 or so of us standing there and stood in front of me, I felt like I was paralyzed. I must have looked terrified because he moved on. You’ve got the size, the looks, that power. Holy crap, how can you lose with a physical presence like that? It is what it is. You can’t argue with it.

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