Jul 082010

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There Is Nothing Wrong With You for Teens – I picked this one up at the library thinking it looked like interesting reading for my teenagers. Apparently it is a teen version of an earlier adult book Cheri wrote. I immediately loved the book, and so did my kids.

Cheri comes from a Zen perspective. She’s the founder and primary teacher at several Zen centers, and her many books are full of Zen techniques and teachings. This, to my mind, is all to the good, as Zen is full of excellent practical psychology.

The book is typeset in a friendly, informal typeface that makes it look like someone’s personal journal. I found this immediately engaging. Using her experience with hundreds of teens in workshops and retreats, Cheri dives right into their problems with penetrating insight.

In particular, this book is about teens liberating themselves from the self-hatred that all of us struggle with at times, but with which teens have particular difficulty. Cheri’s writing radiates total compassion and acceptance. I wish every troubled teen could have Cheri right by their side helping them see their true nature. With this book, they can.

I would highly recommend this book as a gift for any teen, particularly one with self-worth issues (which includes many of them). I intend to look into some of Cheri’s other books based on the wonderful job she did on this one.

Jan 292010

I’ve been listening to a new audio book on child psychology, Nurtureshock. I hope to give a full review shortly, but each chapter is absolutely fascinating, and I thought I’d share a few of the insights along the way. Right out of the gate, the book’s research contradicts the established “wisdom” of the last few decades, by questioning the effectiveness of praising our children’s intelligence.

For quite some time, we’ve been told that children’s self-esteem is one of the most important aspects of their personality – a predictor of confidence and future success. And we’ve been told that the best way to build that self-esteem is by constantly praising them, especially their intelligence. And this seems to make perfect sense. After all, aren’t our own expectations of ourselves a critical factor in our performance?

And the research shows that praise IS important to children. But it matters a lot what KIND of praise. And it turns out that praising children’s intelligence actually has a negative effect. In one study, for example, children are given a simple puzzle test. One group of children is praised for their intelligence at doing well in the test. The other group of children was praised for their EFFORT. Interesting things happened to the two groups. The children praised for their intelligence became cautious. They were afraid of looking bad on subsequent tests. They played it safe. Deep down, they didn’t think that intelligence was something they could control, and so they worried about looking bad. The children praised for their effort became interested in harder challenges and did better on subsequent tests. They felt that their performance was under their control. By working hard, they could do well.

This pattern showed up in study after study, and when you think about it, it makes a read deal of sense. I was a smart kid myself, and was often told so. But sticking to a task and putting in effort was something I wasn’t good at – perhaps BECAUSE I was praised for my intelligence. Children who are praised for their smarts have a harder time sticking to their efforts when things get tough. If a subject isn’t something they are immediately good at, they tend to lose interest. They come to believe that success lies in finding their natural gifts, and don’t realize that they can achieve success in many other areas with a bit of effort.

Praise children for the efforts they make. Let them know that by practice, and work, they can actually change their brains and become smarter. This is similar to the message of Malcom Gladwell’s book Outliers, which I reviewed earlier. Thousands of hours of practice at a skill can make a master out of virtually anyone.

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