YEA! Blog

Creating Better Lives, Brighter Futures & Stronger Families

How “You’re So Smart” is Destroying Our Youth

Welcome to the first post on the Youth Education Alliance’s Parenting Tips blog.

Today we are going to explore how non-specific praise is creating a generation of fragile children, and what we can do as parents, educators, friends and neighbors to help better support our future!

Before we can get to the actual strategies, we must discuss the two mindsets common in the human brain.

1.  Fixed mindsets: these are individuals who believe that achievements are based
on innate abilities rather than perseverance and hard work.

People fostering a fixed mindset focus on:
a. Non-specific praise, “you’re so smart”, “you’re such a good musician.” , etc.
b. Do not feel as if intelligence is within their control.

2.  Growth mindsets: these are individuals who recognize that learning is a process and through exercising your brain, you can learn, grow and develop new skills.

People fostering a growth mindset focus on:
a. The reward of hard work.
b. Provide task specific praise related to one’s  effort or the ability to overcome a challenge.
c.  The belief that intelligence is within their control.

Traditionally, parents and anyone else who works with children have been told that the key to raising a happy, healthy, successful child is to praise extensively and often.  And so we do/did….little Johnny gets told a thousand times a day how smart he really is.  But the question of the day is, “does the type of praise matter”. According to research the overwhelming answer is YES!!!!!

Obviously society needs to make a shift in child rearing philosophy, the question becomes why and more specifically, HOW?

The why is very simple, research has shown that kids who are praised for their intelligence will develop the following habits and beliefs about themselves:

1.  They will be weak and fragile because the factor their identity is based upon (natural smart-ness), is not something within their control.  As a result, they do not take risks that might possibly shake this belief.

2.  They have decreased confidence in their abilities.

3.  They are less willing to take problem solving risks that might result in failure.

4.  They spend less time working on a hard task, than their peers who are of a growth mindset.

Nowhere, do these problems manifest themselves more apparently then in the classroom.  Students who are praised for intelligence, will rarely choose a hard task, where as students who are praised for effort will choose hard tasks 90% of the time, because they understand that learning, is not a gift, it is something that you work hard at all your life…It IS within their circle of control! We all know that there is real power in what we can control, and it gives us the security to take risks.

So, if praising for intelligence leads to a fixed mindset in our children, how do we help them?  As parents, educators and community members it is our duty to raise the next generation to be bigger and better than we were.  What do we do?

I encourage you to take the YEA! Youth Education Alliance Two Week Challenge. Focus on generating a family climate of growth minded-ness, for two weeks.  Yes, still praise your children, but focus on their efforts and their never give up attitude, instead of non-specific phrases like, “you’re so smart”.  While taking on the challenge, take notice of the changes that you see in your relationships to each other.  Then after the two weeks, if you really see a difference (and you will) you can make a re-commitment to foster growth in your family relationships, both with your children and even with your spouse!

TIPS FOR FAMILIES & EDUCATORS for fostering a growth mindset in your family:

1.  Tell stories and focus on individuals that were successful because of a willingness to work hard.

2.  Focus your praise on effort.

3.  Celebrate and learn from mistakes.

4.  Share your challenges and mistakes with your child and foster an attitude of learning from them. Encourage them to share with you as well; it creates open communication and closeness.

Above all, teach your children that true intelligence is having the confidence to see a challenge for what it is (an opportunity) and never give up.

For more information, specific tips and advice, contact or visit our website at

posted by samantha in Parenting Tips and have No Comments