Dean's Letter Beshalach

Rabbi Gidon Goldberg's picture

Dear Parents,

In our ongoing quest to better our parenting skills, we have looked as parents at varied solutions to “sharpen our saw” as parents and to use research-based techniques in our parenting efforts. One of the topics parents focus on is intelligence and its role in our children’s success. This is a topic I have discussed before, and I found an article written by family educator and director of Areivim, Rabbi Shmuel Gluck, whose program is designed to help families and struggling children and adults to increase their success in life. Enjoy my summary of his article!

Many parents describe how smart their children are, and sometimes (but not always) are they correct. Their children, however, do not always achieve success. Many of these children excel in elementary school and then underachieve in high school. Some excel throughout high school and then live mediocre lives.

Some parents love labeling their kids as smart by embracing a single incident, or a few isolated incidents, to support their feelings. Attaching the label of above average intelligence to their children allows people to minimize their investment in those children while, at the same time, increasing what is expected of them. Many resentments, fights, and disappointments between parents and children have resulted from the children being labeled above average.

Rabbi Gluck recently saw a research paper in which someone tracked the lives of 750 people whose I.Q. scores were completely off the charts. In monitoring their lives for over fifty years, they found their success in life to be divided into three equal groups. A third were highly successful, a third moderately so, and the last group consisted of people whose lives showed the typical failures we have seen of others. With research they concluded that success is based more on the family dynamics during the child’s formative years. In homes where parents empowered their children to speak up for themselves (very different from spoiling or enabling them), to be inquisitive, and to become independent, their children then used their intelligence to their maximum ability. For those who were not afforded the same opportunities, their intelligence offered them little or no advantages over others.

Some seemingly intelligent children as they became older, seemed to lose their competitive edge, their confidence, and/or their passion for life.

In other words, intelligence is only a single trait which, when used as part of an overall supportive upbringing, gives children an advantage over others. Left standing alone, intelligence offers them little, if any, advantage over those with average intelligence.

The same attention must be given for anything people want their children to become. Do not overplay any of their exceptional skills. (I can’t tell you how many boys who were going to be computer programmers ended up working in an Amazon warehouse.) Instead, cultivate the interest through their environment. Do that by focusing on the many peripheral skills needed to succeed in all areas. Confidence, decision-making, and showing them how to be assertive without becoming bullies are some examples.

One of the most important peripheral traits is grit – tenacity, or the ability to stubbornly stay focused, interested, and committed to the project at hand. Tenacity is not usually thought of when parenting children. But there are ways to include this in your set of parenting skills.

In her instant New York Times bestseller Grit, pioneering psychologist Angela Duckworth shows anyone striving to succeed – be it parents, students, educators, athletes, or business people – that the secret to outstanding achievement is not talent but a special blend of passion and persistence she calls “grit.” Why do some people succeed, and others fail? Sharing new insights from her landmark research, Angela explains why talent is hardly a guarantor of success. Angela has found that grit – a combination of passion and perseverance for a singularly important goal – is the hallmark of high achievers in every domain. She’s also found scientific evidence that grit can grow.

Let us try to use these skills in educating our children for success.

Good Shabbos,
Rabbi Peretz Scheinerman