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IQ Scores as Predictors of Future Success

Angela Oswalt Morelli , MSW, edited by Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

Research suggests that children's IQ test scores are related to measures of children's future levels of academic functioning, career achievement, and general psychological adjustment. This means that knowing a child's IQ scores does tell you something important (not everything - but something!) about how that child is likely to perform in the future. This finding is based upon a statistical examination of how large groups of students have performed over time. It is a statement about how children tend to do on average; it is not a statement about how a particular individual student will do.

school itemsIt's very important for parents to remember that intelligence (as measured by IQ scores) is not the only factor influencing children's future success and overall positive adjustment in life. Fully half of the "secret sauce" that is intelligence cannot be explained due to biological factors! This means that parents have the opportunity (and the responsibility) to provide children with a supportive and enriched home environment which will maximally promote children's intelligence and successful academic functioning. Emotional support, a home environment that promotes the value of educational success, the provision of educational and recreational opportunities beyond conventional schooling, the promotion of positive habits such as perseverance, optimism and resilience, and other environmental factors have an equal, if not greater, affect on children's future success and happiness than genetics. We explore various ways that parents can nurture their children's self-esteem so as to provide them an added assist in our Nurturing Children's Self-Esteem center.

Children's test scores will not always accurately reflect their true abilities and potential. A range of factors can affect children's test performance, including proficiency with English; speech, writing, and/or hearing disabilities they may have which were not identified and adequately compensated for during testing; anxiety at being evaluated; oppositional/defiant behavior issues; illness; discomfort or pain; an inadequate testing environment (one that is too noisy, hot, or poor lit, for example); or even situational variables leading to children's mistrust of the examiner(s) or lack of motivation during testing.

A final note of caution with regard to IQ scores is to point out that it is easy to regard them as a prophecy (even though they are not!), and to mistakenly start treating children differently because of how they have scored on the test. For instance, it is easy for parents to start treating their child whose IQ score indicates below average intelligence as somehow doomed to failure, or even to start thinking of them as "stupid". In reality, fully half the people in the world are below average intelligence and most of them get along just fine. Some of them even do extremely well. IQ scores simply do not measure emotional competencies, or charisma, or interpersonal skills or athletic abilities, or any number of other factors associated with actual success in life. Rather than withdrawing parental attention out of a sense of helplessness (which will demotivate children), it is a better idea to provide more parental attention; supportive and loving attention capable of motivating them to make the most of their varied gifts.

Similarly, parents may start placing extra demands on children who score highly on IQ tests and expect great things of them, producing a similarly demotivating environment. Parents may start to insist that a child prepare for medical school when the child may actually have no real interest in that career path. The resulting mismatch may end up harming the child more than helping her.

Children should not be punished or made to feel ashamed for failure to perform well on an IQ test. Conversely, neither should parents overly praise or build up children who attain high scores on tests. Regardless of their measured IQ scores, all children need to be supported by their parents and encouraged to pursue their intrinsic gifts and interests. It's wise for parents to shape children's interests in practical directions. It can be very destructive for parents to ignore or try to overrule them completely.