Do You Want a Smart, or Wise, Child?

The benefits of brilliance

I know you want your child to be smart, earn good grades, and achieve lots of academic success. It’s wonderful to see that ‘A’ on the report card, and it makes you feel proud and encouraged for your child’s future. I have lots of talks with parents about how to improve their child’s academic achievement, and these discussions are necessary and worthwhile. However, as I leave church this morning, I can’t help but think that there is something more. As much as I want my kids to be smart and achieve, even more I want them to be wise. I want them to make good decisions, and live a good life.

Does being smart mean they’ll make good decisions (and be wise)?

We want our kids to be smart, but does that mean they’ll be wise too? If a child gets good grades, will they also make good decisions in their life? That’s a tough one. Research has shown that smart people tend to be more “successful”. However, is it always a sure bet that they’re wiser? There are lots of smart people in jail. As a psychologist, I also know that there are lots of smart people who are not especially happy. I also know that there a lot of less-than-brilliant people who are really happy, and not in jail. So, guess it’s safe to say that smart doesn’t equal wise.

The Wisdom Factor

What’s the different between being smart and being wise? Smart people may have a high IQ, but wise people make good decisions. They know when to say no. That begs the question: what are “good decisions?” I suppose they are choices that keep us out of trouble, help and bring us closer to others, and benefit our lives and the lives of others. The more we do such things, the happier and more content we’ll be, don’t ya think?

Where does wisdom come from?

We can read from the book of Proverbs (the “manual for living”), that God cherishes wisdom more than smarts and has helped to “keep us from making wrong turns or following the bad direction.” Am I saying that wisdom comes from our relationship with God; well, yea, I am. It’s hard, otherwise, to learn right from wrong, and stay strong to do what’s right.

Where does that leave our kids?

Okay, back to where we started; you want your child to be smart and earn good grades. However, you also want your child to be make good decisions, have good and healthy interpersonal boundaries and relationships, not make a wreck of their lives, help others, and be as joyful as possible despite inevitable trials and tribulations. Given that these things have such strong moral under-pinnings, it’s difficult to remove them from the spiritual. I think that’s why we, as parents, go to such great lengths to get our kids to Church, Sunday School, Mass, Synagogue, Temple, Mosque, or wherever you go to get closer to God. We intuitively know that the closer our child is to knowing and understanding God, the more likely he or she is to make better choices. We also remember the motto, ‘what you do speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you say’, so we work extra hard to model, for our children, a virtuous life.

Smarts vs wisdom

To sum it up, I’ll be happy if both my kids earn straight A’s, are valedictorians, go to medical school, and find a cure for cancer.

However, I’ll be positively thrilled if they, quite simply, are wise.

How about you?

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Dr. John Carosso

Dr. Carosso has more than 30 years of experience as a licensed Child Clinical Psychologist and Certified School Psychologist working in private, inpatient, outpatient, residential, school, and home settings. He is Clinical Director of Community Psychiatric Centers (cpcwecare.com), a licensed Behavioral Health Outpatient Clinic, and operates both the Autism Center of Pittsburgh (autismcenterofpittsburgh.com) and the Dyslexia Diagnostic and Treatment Center (dyslexiatreaters.com).