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Today’s parents are more concerned than ever with their children’s success in life. Understandably, most want their children to excel--many want their children to be considered very “intelligent.” But what is intelligence, anyway?  Because it is not a tangible object, intelligence often becomes difficult not only to define but also to even comprehend.  
Some experts define intelligence as the ability to think, reason and solve problems. Leading psychologists in the field debate the issue, with some focusing on the contribution of environment, such as stimulation or deprivation, and some focusing on how intelligence is rooted in our genes or our brains.  Others have developed entirely new theories that embody non-traditional views of intelligence, such as musical or kinesthetic (body) intelligence or intelligence in emotional factors and personal attitudes.  

Most people are familiar with the term IQ--Intelligence Quotient.  Unfortunately, there is a common misconception that knowing a child’s IQ tell us exactly “how smart” that child is and how far he or she will go in life. Wrong! The information obtained from an IQ test is limited and should be considered only one small fraction of the overall picture.  


Let’s take a look at the origins of the IQ test. Early IQ tests were developed for purposes of the military. They were devised in order to weed out any individual who would have trouble as a regular soldier.  Next, they were to weed out students who would need special education. Soon, however, IQ tests came to be known as a way of giving a number to indicate “underlying ability” or “level of smartest.” Thus to the question, “What is Intelligence?” the answer becomes “that which is measured by IQ tests.”  

Theoretically, IQ tests try to assess a person’s ability to think and reason in comparison to the majority of people in the same age group.  What is critical--and what is too often overlooked--is that any number of things can influence performance on the test, and thus affect the IQ score. For example, if the child is tired, ill or distracted, the score could be affected.  Sometimes rapport between the examiner and child, or even the condition of the testing room, may have an impact. I like to tell parents that obtaining an IQ may be akin to obtaining a measure of blood pressure or adult body weight. Usually these things remain fairly stable over time, but it is possible they could be measured later and a different “score” obtained.  Another way to look at the IQ score is in terms of taking a photograph.  The picture may be a good likeness or it may not.  


It is critical to understand that the overall test score shows us only a broad range of expected ability for a child.  Psychologists use terms such as “Slow Learner,” Average” or “Superior” to define ranges.  Generally, an IQ between 90-109 is considered Average, with the score 100 falling exactly, “mid-Average.”  As the IQ deviates from this, the more extra attention a child may need, such as extra help and tutoring in the lower ranges or extra challenge and stimulation in the upper ranges.  

At either end of the spectrum are children whose IQ scores are so far from Average that they may require special education.  Generally speaking, the lowest 2 percent of the school population (IQ 70 or below) may benefit from a class for Mentally Handicapped, while the upper two percent (IQ 130 or above) may benefit from a Gifted curriculum.  The IQ score can also help educators get an idea of where a child “should” be expected to achieve.  If actual achievement, however, is significantly below this expectation, it is possible that the child may have some Specific Learning Disability (SLD) in reading (dyslexia) or math (dyscalculia).


Be aware that although one overall IQ score is reported, it is actually comprised of a student’s performance on numerous tasks--a combination then, of many different abilities.  Indeed, one of the most popular IQ tests gives a breakdown of Verbal IQ (listening/language) and Nonverbal IQ (visual/perceptual/motor skills).  Moreover, the pattern of scores can also be helpful by showing a child’s relative strengths and weaknesses.  Just as children vary in physical characteristics, so too they may vary on tasks such as understanding and defining words, or speed and accuracy in paper- and-pencil manipulation.  

IQ & Success


An IQ test’s major role is predicting school success--helping educators make sound decisions regarding each student’s needs. Generally, the higher the IQ, the stronger the school performance that can be expected.  This is not always the case, however, as so many other things can effect school success. Children with below average IQs have performed much better than expected in the classroom because they have so many other positive characteristics, such as strong self-esteem, willingness to try, high concentration, special interests and so on.  In contrast, some children scoring with high IQ’s may be impeded in the classroom by things such as emotional problems, poor school attendance or low motivation.  

Recently, a child’s father expressed strong disappointment that his son’s IQ was “only 135,” reporting that he and numerous other family members had been tested out at much higher scores. This child will probably have trouble with real life success-not because he lacked “native ability,” but because of the failure syndrome that was established in this parental style. The boy’s self -esteem and attitudes (such as perseverance) suffered. Already, the boy was having school problems, such as not doing homework and occasionally skipping classes. These problems were not because he was “not bright enough.”


How does I.Q. affect success in life? There appears to be some but a relatively small relationship between a person’s IQ score and success later in the “real world,” outside of school. Research has shown that IQ tests are most powerful in predicting school success in the early elementary grades and become less relevant at the middle and especially high school level. There are simply too many other things that impact success: attitude, motivation, social skills, leadership, and self-esteem, for starters.

This is not to say that parents can have little influence in helping their children reach their full potential. Foremost, parents are essential in the “other factors” category such as fostering positive self-esteem and a good school attitude. Most critical is developing a sense of competency--an “I can do it” attitude.

In terms of enrichment, parents can plan home and community activities to enhance their children’s natural abilities and broaden their horizons. Music, art, and cultural offerings in the community can not only enrich the child’s life but provide the basis for further learning later. Family friends and business associates may act as mentors in the areas of particular interest, and weekly excursions to the local library are excellent. Various competitions and enrichment clubs are also available through school and communities.  

Because task commitment and leadership are critical to achievement, one of the best things parents can do is give their children specific responsibilities at home (increasing with age) and make sure they follow through. Regarding a sense of competency, children should meet some frustration, learn to push forward, problem-solve and overcome obstacles. IQ tests can suggest overall ability level, but only real life experiences will allow children to truly blossom.

Adapted from: An article by the author in Growing up in Central Florida Newsletter, October 1999.