It is a universal and unnerving question for any parent: Should you tell your child his or her IQ score?
But I suggest that we are all asking the wrong question.
That's because we've been living under a false assumption. We've been led to believe that IQ scores reveal our innate intelligence -- our inborn potential and limits. Believing that, the notion of telling a child his or her score is indeed terrifying. It is, in essence saying: here's what you are capable of, and what you are not capable of. Under that understanding of IQ, knowing one's score (whatever the number) can be a severe burden.
But according to a number of intelligence experts -- not all, mind you, but the ones I have come to trust most after three years of research on the subject -- IQ does not reveal one's innate intelligence. Rather, IQ tests reveal what many other tests reveal: developed skills.
That's not to say that IQ tests are useless. They can be very useful for school administrators to see how their students are faring compared to other schools. They can confirm or refute hunches that parents and teachers might have about specific strengths or weaknesses in certain individuals.
But IQ is not an omniscient window into your brain core.
According to this new understanding, the question should not be whether to tell your child his or her IQ. The question should be: What should you tell your child about IQ?
Here's our chance to destigmatize IQ and intelligence, once and for all. Here's our chance to help our children understand that the human brain is marvelously plastic, and full of extraordinary potential -- if we figure out how to tap into it.
Rather than treating IQ like a inflexible truth, our conversations with our children can put IQ in its proper place. Grades show us how we are doing in class so far. IQ and other tests show us how our intellectual skills are developing so far.
Every skill measured by the IQ test can be improved -- if we understand that intelligence is a process and not a thing. Stanford's Carol Dweck has demonstrated powerfully that students who view intelligence as skills-in-progress do much better than students who consider intelligence a fixed quantity.
IQ scores need not be something to fear, or hide from. Like any other test, they can be an opportunity to see how far we've come, and how far we have to go.
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David Shenk is a writer on genetics, talent and intelligence. He is the author of Data Smog, The Forgetting, and most recently, The Genius In All of Us.