Can you boost your kid's IQ?
The popular press likes to promote the idea of the pushy, hovering parent doing everything possible to get a child into Harvard from birth -- see all the talk of Hothouse Kids and the like over the past year. This is a misleading stereotype; most parents are focused on simply getting through the day without major crises, and have not developed a philosophy on why Baby Einstein is better than Barbie. But there is a certain subset that apparently believes, rather egotistically, that their children's later success rides on their early parenting decisions.
For instance, I recently came across a book, by neurologist David Perlmutter, called "Raise a Smarter Child by Kindergarten." Dr. Perlmutter says that 30 IQ points are at stake between birth and kindergarten, and he has the activities you should do with your kids to maximize their allotment. Frankly, I'm not sure why birth is the beginning point, except that it's hard to interest a fetus in flashcards. An industry of womb music has sprung up for parents looking to get a jump start on all this after putting two and two together. You see, babies remember music they hear after 20 weeks gestation, according to this article, and countless elementary school science fair projects have shown that plants grow better when exposed to classical music. So in theory, playing Mozart to a child, in utero, should make him smarter later. Except there's absolutely no evidence of this. Research is even showing that breast-feeding, long thought to increase IQ, actually doesn't.
That's not to say that parents have no effect on a child's intelligence beyond their genes. Studies on adoption have shown that while adopted children with lower IQs don't match their new families' IQ scores, they do get a major boost. This boost is enough to take children from the borderline mental retardation level to just a bit on the lower side of normal. This has a huge payoff in terms of what kinds of jobs and what kind of life the child will be able to manage later on.
But the evidence is not so clear on what well-educated parents can do to raise the IQ scores of their already well-loved, well-stimulated children. Nor is it clear that a mildly higher IQ score -- beyond a certain level -- will do much to enhance a child's success later in life. As the "Praise" post a few weeks ago discussed, there's much to be said for self-reliance. For a child to develop that, a parent has to do one of the hardest things possible in our competitive culture -- step back and let the little one succeed or fail on his own.
It's human nature to want to believe that things are within our power that aren't. But it doesn't help gifted kids to have society believe that parents just hothoused them from conception to age five. As one mom told us in Genius Denied, she saw a father out jogging with his son, shouting multiplication tables back and forth to be sure the boy learned them. "Sam just learned them," this mom says of her own kid. "I didn't have to do a thing." Gifted children are a gift, often a complicated one, for sure, but not a reward for doing the right number of flashcards. Discussions of gifted education would benefit from a wider realization of this truth.