It's been established in several recent studies that telling children they are "smart" is actually counter-productive--it causes them to be more fearful, less willing to struggle with problems, and therefore causes them to learn less. It communicates that smartness is an innate factor that they cannot change, and therefore the important thing becomes to look smart at all costs, mostly by avoiding anything difficult. Children praised for hard work, on the other hand, feel that learning is something within their control, and are more likely to tackle more challenging work and learn more.
I wonder if telling children they are beautiful (or handsome, but this seems to be a lesser issue for boys so we'll gloss over it for now) has a similar effect. After all, listen to the subtexts of that statement:
- Your body is valuable because of how you look to other people.
- That appearance is something innate, out of your control.
- Oh, and incidentally, for now, to me, you meet up to that elusive standard.
If I think instead about the message I *do* want to send, it would be more like this:
- Your body is valuable because it is there for *you* to do things with. (Therefore drawing attention to and noting when they seem to be at peace with themselves--when they are learning to use their bodies well--when they have found activities they enjoy--when they work hard and grow in skills.)
- Love is the most important part of beauty. You will always be beautiful to the people who love you. And while love cannot be guaranteed, it can be nurtured. (Therefore learning to give and receive love, without regard to appearance.)
- You can and should take good care of yourself and your body. (Therefore encouraging and praising good hygiene, good health, good--individual--taste in clothing, etc. )