For a few decades, it’s been noted that a large percentage of all gifted students (those who score in the top 10 percent on aptitude tests) severely underestimate their own abilities. Those afflicted with this lack of perceived competence adopt lower standards for success and expect less of themselves. They underrate the importance of effort, and they overrate how much help they need from a parent.
When parents praise their children’s intelligence, they believe they are providing the solution to this problem. . . . The constant praise is meant to be an angel on the shoulder, ensuring that children do not sell their talents short.
But a growing body of research—and a new study from the trenches of the New York public-school system—strongly suggests it might be the other way around. Giving kids the label of “smart” does not prevent them from underperforming. It might actually be causing it. . . .Dweck discovered that those who think that innate intelligence is the key to success begin to discount the importance of effort. I am smart, the kids’ reasoning goes; I don’t need to put out effort. Expending effort becomes stigmatized—it’s public proof that you can’t cut it on your natural gifts.
Thinking about the high school students here, I do see a severe tendency to give up, to think that if they're not one of the favored few labeled smart and college-bound, it hardly matters what they do. They don't have the skills to push themselves, since they don't see reason to put out the effort.
On the parenting side, it's another warning not to project ourselves onto our kids, praising them for only what they are naturally good at--or what we wish we were good at, because it boosts our egos to have a smart/athletic/beautiful/American Idol kid. Children do not exist to make adults feel good about themselves. It reminds me of this saying, which I am trying hard to remember as a particular teenager frustrates me: