On Authentic Praise

Po Bronson and Ashley Merriman, in their book NurtureShock, note that children are suspicious of inauthentic praise1:

“Sincerity of praise is also crucial. According to Dweck, the biggest mistake parents make is assuming students aren’t sophisticated enough to see and feel our true intentions. Just as we can sniff out the true meaning of a backhanded compliment or a disingenuous apology, children, too, scrutinize praise for agendas. Only young children — under the age of seven — take praise at face value: older children are just as suspicious of it as adults.
“Psychologist Wulf-Uwe Meyer, a pioneer in the field, conducted a series of studies during which children watched other students receive praise. According to Meyer’s findings, by the age of 12, children believe that earning praise from a teacher is not a sign you did well — it’s actually a sign you lack the ability and the teacher thinks you need extra encouragement. They’ve picked up the pattern: kids who are falling behind get drowned in praise. Teens, Meyer found, discounted praise to such an extent that they believed it’s a teachers criticism — not praise at all — it really conveys a positive belief in a student’s aptitude.”

Praise is a good thing. Inauthentic praise (at least for kids over 7) is not perceived as praise at all; it is perceived—perhaps rightfully so— as criticism.

  1. NurtureShock, Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman p. 20 []