Excerpt: Susan Engel's 'Red Flags or Red Herrings?: Predicting Who Your Child Will Become'


And why does it matter if your child is smart? Remember that the first intelligence test was created simply to make sure that children who were unusually slow were not punished for having trouble learning. Geniuses almost always announce themselves—you don't need to be tested to show that you are forty points smarter than other people. And as Malcolm Gladwell has argued in his book Outliers, above a certain level of intelligence, the difference doesn't, for the most part, matter when it comes to outstanding achievement. Children who get the highest IQ scores are not necessarily destined for a life of greatness, and children who have average intelligence are not doomed to an average life.

As I will explain in Chapter 5, success depends on a lot of things besides intelligence. However, it would be silly to discount intelligence altogether. In our society, the child who has an IQ score of 140 is going to be attracted to math or books in a way that a child with an IQ of 115 might not be. But the point is that you don't need to subject your child to an expensive and tiresome test to find this out. Most children who have an IQ score of 140 act as if they do. They seek out information, they like learning things, they solve problems more easily and creatively than others, and they analyze situations with acuity. Parents might simply learn what that looks like in the six-year-old, for two reasons. First, if your child is subjected to negative stereotypes, you can push against those stereotypes. Hank's mother had better make sure his teachers know the difference between unruly and stupid. He might knock the glass over, tap his finger during a lesson, or defy an adult's request, but none of these has anything to do with his intellect. A teacher had better know that her unconscious negative stereotype about black children needs to be examined and that she needs to take concrete steps to counteract that stereotype.

Intelligence: As Smart As the Day You Were Born

Second, on the positive side, the more aware you are of your child's expressions of intellectual liveliness, the more likely you are to encourage her, giving her a chance at a positive self-fulfilling prophecy. But here we need to draw a line. There is currently an epidemic, particularly in the white middle class, of parents eager to identify their children as gifted. Everyone wants his or her child to be in the program for gifted and talented children at school. It's not always clear whether it's because these parents think their children's needs are not being met in the regular classroom, whether they have a hunch that livelier and more engaging activities, things that would be appealing to any child, are going on in the gifted and talented program, or whether they want to make sure their children have an edge over everyone else when it comes to college. But in truth, not that many children are gifted, if gifted means exceptional. By definition, there are few exceptions. Few children fall outside the normal range of intelligence. Moreover, focusing on your child's exceptional ability encourages a kind of preciousness and competitiveness that isn't good for anyone.

Whether a child is of average intellect or on the high end, providing him with chances to pursue his interests, offering plenty of "nonbusiness" talk, and surrounding him with books that you and he actually read are the best support you can offer. The rest will take care of itself.

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