8.21.2013

Good Mom (of Smartypants Kid) or Bad Mom?

Nerds, we are.
Mali is a smartypants, that's just a fact. But I don't think it's enough to be a smartypants and then be proud of that fact -- I think being smart and gathering facts without being curious -- & motivated by that curiosity to learn more more more -- is a waste of a brain. What do you think?

Trust me, I'm infinitely amused by today's Mali smartypants incidents (that my FB friends already know about, apologies for the recycle). Such as reading this month's National Geographic and freaking out about sea level rise and lecturing everyone in earshot about which global cities are going to be gone and why. Such as, when our refrigerator broke down, lecturing me on how exactly a fridge compressor makes the fridge cold. (Thank you, Beakman's World.)

And the following exchange:
Mali: "Isn't it ironic that Amy Winehouse died of alcohol poisoning and has the word 'wine' in her name?"

Me: [pauses, has several thoughts] "Um, actually it's a sad coincidence." [explains irony]

Mali: "You mean like if a dog was run over by an animal rescue van?"

Me: "Sort of. Did you come up with that yourself?"

Mali: "Naw, it's from Paranorman."

Me: ><
But then on the way to dropping Iz at soccer practice, they started talking about the digestive system for some reason. Which ended with Mali saying, "that's what smooth muscle will do for you!" Iz started, then told Mali she was smart, because she's going into 4th grade and Iz herself didn't learn about smooth muscle until 7th grade. 

After Iz left the car, Mali asked me if I thought it was good that she was smart. And here's where I am again curious as to what you think. I asked her if she knew why smooth muscle was different from cardiac muscle. She said she didn't. So I told her that it was good to be smart and learn a lot, but that it wasn't enough to gather information and move on -- it was important to know why things are the way they are. I told her I was impressed by her autodidact skills (she knew about smooth and cardiac muscles from reading, not from school) (and then we broke autodidact into its roots, so she would remember not just what it means but why), but it was important to also synthesize and delve and go deeper and find out more. 

Is this unfair, for an eight-year-old? I guess I don't want her to be (more of) a showoff about what she knows. I want her to love knowledge itself, and pursue it for its own means, for her own use, not as a card or parlor trick. It is only OK to act like Hermione Granger if you learn like Hermione Granger, is my thought.

Please, opine. Thanks.


17 comments:

  1. We tell our children, all of whom are bright autodidacts, that the smart part was a gift, not a cause for pride; the real pride can come with hard work and positive/useful application of that gift. Imparting knowledge with a genuine wish to be helpful and informative is absolutely an appropriate use of the gift, but firing off informational tidbits just to show off is not (around here, anyway, and there is some tendency to do that). If I recall correctly, Hermione did often use her knowledge to problem solve and be helpful, not always in a showy way. There can be a fine line between being useful and being an obnoxious pedant, but over time, wisdom and experience can help a person discern when s/he has crossed it. Or at least, that has been my experience, also one rooted in being a lifetime autodidact.

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    1. I would like to drop Mali off at your house. Thanks for sharing your experience, it is appreciated.

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  2. Have you and the spousal unit have had the chance to read Carol Dweck's Mindset yet? I think it is a really good guide for parents, but especially for those of us who are fortunate enough to have self-educating children like Mali.

    No, I don't think you are being unfair to her. I think it would be unfair to her to think of herself as "just smart", without developing a broader view.

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    1. I have downloaded the sample version of Mindset from iBooks, thank you. Mostly I just worry that I don't have the energy to direct & parent her the way she deserves and needs. She needs a non-slackard parent.

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  3. Second the Mindset recommendation. You are already on the right track, encouraging a growth mindset (maybe you've already read it!). I think it's important to ensure that kids don't come to base their identity solely on their intelligence--much better for them to form identities around what good workers they are (responsibility), their concern for the world and others (membership in a community), etc. Such characteristics may be enhanced by a bright and inquisitive mind, so sure, it's "good to be smart," just not in and of itself. (With care also taken to learn that people who are less informed/slower on the uptake still have plenty to offer. I think that's not an easy lesson for kids raised in gifted programs...speaking for myself here.....)

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    1. I've not read it, but will give it a shot. Drawing on what has been mentioned above and by you, smarts without a work ethic or a sense of social responsibility is a waste of a mind. And as our kids get older, I have noticed many many many not designated "smartypants" at first blossom and succeed and exceed, in a variety of ways -- through hard work, slow-burning talent, joining groups, different developmental pathways, etc. And then there's the adults (in this area anyhow) who think of themselves as smartypants still, but have lost their way or aren't succeeding -- and can't figure out why. I'm rambling now and realize that parenting can only contribute so much. Mostly I miss you. xo

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  4. I think you're on the right track, too, but I do think there needs to be a recognition that she may need the give-and-take of the kind of conversation you two had to help her figure out where to dive deeper into a concept. There are always so many points of entry, and so many windy roads to travel down; there's always going to be one you haven't pursued and that will be pointed out to you by another smartypants (in this case, you! ;-)). I.e., she may have been curious enough about smooth muscle to figure out all the different places in the body where it exists, and how it works, and...whatever. The fact that it didn't occur to her to compare and contrast it with cardiac muscle isn't a failing; what would be a 'problem' in the sense that you're talking about it here would be having you ask her about the differences and having her dismiss that as unimportant or uninteresting. (Did that make any sense?)

    Beyond that, I don't have a lot for you. Mali's smartypantsdom is outside of my realm of experience--and makes me smile every time I read about it--and thus isn't one of the gifts I have to struggle with as a parent, though that doesn't mean I'm not constantly encouraging my kids to "dive deeper" anyway. That's what makes education so much fun!

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    1. Thank you -- "many points of entry" is something I will keep in mind. Miss you, too btw (as I do Giddy).

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  5. Anonymous12:35 PM

    "So I told her that it was good to be smart and learn a lot, but that it wasn't enough to gather information and move on -- it was important to know why things are the way they are."

    I think that's great encouragement for a bright girl, and I'd love to peek into the future to see what she does with that intelligence! It seems like it's probably normal for an eight-year-old to blurt out facts he/she has read, though. That said, I think if my kid had asked me such a question, I might've told him it's fine to be smart -- it's what you DO with it that matters. Using one's powers for good! ;-) My kid like to occasionally use his smarts to put me down (laughing when I ask a baseball question -- "Oh! You didn't KNOW that?"), so this is what we're working on.

    - Beth

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    1. Thanks Beth. We work on something similar, responding "Right!" or even "Yes, that's true!" Instead of "I already knew that." Because there might have been even better information/stories coming, and you don't want to cut that off.

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  6. Late to this, but I agree in practice. I praise Milo for many things, like his caring, his concentration, his love of reading, and his curiousity - but not for his intelligence. It's not something that I give justification for - more that I don't value intelligence in itself. (I've read Dweck's earlier work "Self-theories" but not "Mindset".)

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    1. Thanks, that is pretty much what I mean, and what I think Emily was getting at. Hope to see you 'round soon now that our kids are back at the same school.

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  7. Anonymous8:28 AM

    I tell my 12-year-old smartypants son I want to raise a meaningful participant in society, not a know-it-all champ at the pizza parlor trivia nights. And those qualities of persistence and self-satisfaction in a job well done are what I am trying to foster. (Thanks to your readers for the book recommendation.)

    Heather near Atlanta

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  8. Anonymous12:46 AM

    I think it is very good to mention what your values are. But she is 8. She is smart but she is still 8 and she is not going to think the same way as someone more mature, immediately. She is not going to have the judgment of someone more mature.

    But I think that what you say to her about your values for learning and thought are very important and matter a lot. It just might take some time for it to show up.

    Also I think a lot of facts are new to her and cool as facts. A lot of kids that age read Guiness Book of Works Records-type stuff. Just because she likes facts as facts now, doesn't mean she won't develop more depth. Especially when depth is valued in her home.

    But just bc she might know more or more intricate facts than some kids her age, and so it might come across more, I think it is also kind-of a trait of her age. She also might have interests that don't seem like they are more for kids, but she is still a kid. If she was interested in Legos it might not come across as a shallowness. But she might be doing the same kind of thing as my son who pores over the Lego Club magazine and loves to tell how many guys there are and what they are like. I just don't expect that subject to yield a huge amount of depth. But her source material has a lot of potential.

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    1. Aaaaah you are all so intuitive and thoughtful. Thank you thank you. Also - there is a Lego Club magazine? I will have to tell Mali about that.

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  9. Anonymous12:03 PM

    No words of wisdom, but parenting a kid who is already Mali-esque at 3, so reading for future thoughts...
    -Jessica in NY

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Respectful disagreement encouraged.

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