What Makes Kids Intelligent?
Raising Smart Kids
Oct. 15, 2001 -- How can we make our children smarter?
A tough question, since some kids are book smart while others
are street smart. Some build towering block skyscrapers while others paint word
pictures in poetry and prose. Some win the school election while others know
just what to say to make you feel better.
"Intelligence reflects the general ability to process
information, which promotes learning, understanding, reasoning, [and]
problem-solving," says Linda S. Gottfredson, PhD, a professor of education
at the University of Delaware in Newark. "It affects many sorts of everyday
As each child is unique, we'll focus on why children differ in
intelligence, and on how to bring out their best.
Heredity or Environment?
Heredity accounts for more than 80% of the variation in adult
intelligence, yet each successive generation appears smarter on IQ tests,
highlighting the importance of environmental factors. Why the apparent
"The hidden assumption in this paradox is that genes and
environment are unrelated, which sounds ridiculous as soon as you say it,"
William T. Dickens, PhD, a senior fellow in economic studies at Brookings
Institute in Washington, D.C., tells WebMD. "Genes get the credit for most
of the work that the environment is doing."
Where intelligence is concerned, the rich get richer and the
poor get poorer. Children born with higher intelligence do better in school,
which enables them to get into enriched classes or go to college where they
further their intelligence.
"If the environment affects IQ and the IQ affects
environment, it's a virtuous or vicious cycle," Dickens says.
Over time, the effects of the environment on intelligence get
weaker. For example, after a child enters a preschool enrichment program, IQ
peaks within six to 12 months. When the child leaves that environment, IQ
"When you remove a kid from a good environment and put him
back in a bad one, he'll do different things than he did before," Dickens
says. "He may choose brighter friends or watch more educational TV shows.
But there are fewer options than in the good environment, so, over time,
there'll be a slow drag on his IQ."
How much stock should we put in those magical IQ numbers?
"I don't think there is much point in trying to assess
children's intelligence unless they seem unusual -- not developing properly or
precocious," Gottfredson says. "People tend to take individual test
scores too seriously."
"A better indicator than IQ score is whether the child is
curious, enjoys role playing and learning, and is happy," says Stephen J.
Schoenthaler, PhD, a professor of nutrition and behavior at California State
University in Long Beach.
But Dickens contends that the one thing that best predicts how
well 14-year-olds will do as adults, in terms of economic and social outcome,
is their IQ score.