Flattery Will Get Them Nowhere
Are we overpraising our children?

By Richard Handler

July/August 2007

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
By Carol S. Dweck
Random House. 276 pp. ISBN:1-400-06275-6

When you read the subtitle of this book, you can be excused for yawning. Thousands of books with titles like these crowd the self-help market. But this one is different. It has substance behind it, based on years of solid research.

Carol Dweck is a prominent developmental psychologist whose research covers personality, social psychology, and learning. She was a professor at Columbia for years and now occupies an endowed chair at Stanford. I first came across her work on NPR radio, where she's an accomplished studio guest. What grabbed my ear was how her research was redefining the way we talk about self-esteem, that perennial topic of self-help books.

For a long time, stories have been floating to the surface, in all media, about how our culture's concern for self-esteem might not be the best thing for parents and children, or anyone. Tag and dodge ball are banned in some schoolyards: you're "it" or "out" is deemed harmful to the sensitive young. One Massachusetts elementary school even forbade skipping ropes because nobody should be told she can't jump high enough.

Books and satiric articles have made fun of our cult of self-esteem and the "therapeutic society" that supports it. Dweck's work with kids from grade school to college, along with other researchers' studies, is giving us a new basis from which to…

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