Parenting: Malleable Mindets

For my cognitive science class, I was reading about classing personality traits like happiness, resiliency, and helplessness into two mindsets derived by how people thought of themselves. There’s the fixed mindset, when somebody believes that their qualities are carved in stone. It can create an urgency for that person to prove themselves over and over. The second mindset (which in this context is the advantageous one) is the malleable mindset. People with malleable mindsets believe that cherished qualities can be developed through effort and dedication.

Also, there was an experiment done gauging the effects subtle linguistic cues in praises could have on children’s motivations. Imagine that you had kids A and B, who are instructed to draw a picture. Kid A is given a generic praise, “you are a good drawer.” Kid B is given a more specific, non-generic praise, “you did a good job drawing.” The study showed that children like kid B who were given non-generic praises had less extreme emotional reactions to criticism and were motivated to correct themselves. While when children like kid A were criticized, they started to cry and gave up drawing. I feel that what contributed most to those outcomes is that giving generic praise, or even too much praise, implies to children that they have a stable ability that underlies their drawing performance. They become emotionally attached to that identity that they are stably good drawers. Mistakes then reflect on that stable ability, and can demoralize their perception of their ability. However, what makes the non-generic praise not so generic (haha) is that it comments on a specific instance of drawing, not the child’s skill of drawing itself. ex. “You did a good job drawing that yesterday” vs “you are such a talented drawer!” so the child doesn’t attach as strongly to this identity as a “good” drawer. They can then continue along with their lives drawing, still motivated to correct their mistakes and become better.

I thought it’d be interesting to bring these findings together and think about how I would raise my own kids to develop malleable mindsets. So that in the long run, they won’t be overwhelmed by emotional distress and will be able to jump into any field (whether it be academic or not) with the confidence that they can master it. When a child receives a lot of affection from, let’s say, a mother, the child will naturally grow close to her and come to her in times of loneliness and stress, kind of like a secure base.  There was a study discussing the behavior of these securely attached infants. In an experiment, a group of infants A were conditioned to not see their mothers as secure bases, and the scientists recorded how their behaviors when their mothers left the room they were in (how long they would at her after she left). The group A of infants made no discrimination to their mothers when they left the room; they even showed signs of surprise when their mothers came back. These infants had different expectations about caretakers than babies who were trained traditionally to go to their mothers in times of stress. I think this relates to the idea of attaching to an identity in the second experiment. However, rather than attaching to an internal identity, the child can become attached to an external entity (in this case, a parent). And if a child is pampered heavily, he or she will become dependent on somebody else, which I feel will perpetuate a fixed mindset. So how should we go about parenting? Do we have to sacrifice some of our attention for the long-run goals of independence and malleable mindsets?

Casting away the chains of comfort

Why did I choose Swarthmore?

A question difficult for me to answer, and also the question that’s been on my mind ever since committing to Swarthmore. I’m going to take this time to put my thoughts of decision into words.

I come from a traditional asian family, with parents who don’t seen the point of going to a liberal arts school, especially compared to other top schools that I could’ve chosen. Given that I wanted to major in computer science, we all thought that it was going to be a no-brainer to choose a school with the more reputable computer science program.

When I visited Swarthmore, I wasn’t immediately captivated by the campus. I didn’t have that “love at first sight” feeling. To be completely honest, I felt pretty uncomfortable being there. I felt outclassed by everybody there choosing between Swarthmore and other ivy leagues. I was intimidated by the tremendous academic stress at Swat. I felt confined in the small campus. I had always seen myself going to a big university. I had heard many perspectives of the computer science program from other Swatties, and one thing that was apparent was that Swarthmore wasn’t really the place to go if you wanted to be surrounded by tech recruiters offering students internships left and right. Being in a tech internship right now, I am in love with the type of people I work with and I can see the definite benefits of having many internship experiences. My parents are constantly telling me how I’m going to make more money going to a technical school to study computer science. And to top it off, Swarthmore isn’t really a household name that is thrown around, so not many companies know about it. To the outside, these reasons should be as clear as day for me to not choose Swarthmore. But something inside me kept urging me to go to Swat, and what made it worse was that I knew exactly what that was.

Looking back, the people I looked up to the most weren’t necessarily extremely smart, extremely rich, etc. They were people who were grounded by their human values, people who could genuinely connect with other people, and people who truly wanted to expand their minds. During Ride the Tide at Swarthmore, I made a new friend with a senior who asked me to help with a dance choreography she was working on. I asked a Swattie questions over Facebook, and she invited me to video chat her over Skype for a more personal experience. I strive to be as friendly as them. This is the type of person that I want to become, and I noticed how there was nothing related to computer science here. Interests are plastic, and they will continue to develop or change as long as I’m open to them. Hell, I thought I wanted to study medicine for my whole life until I started my engineering internship at Caviar the summer before my senior year in high school. I pretty much had no experience with programming before officially starting my internship, but once I started, my dedication to it grew like wildfire. I would come into the office almost 10 hours everyday to learn from other engineers and try out new things myself, and the people I met there are some of the coolest people I know. How awesome is it to say that I loved going to work because I’m in an environment where I’m constantly challenged, where I’m surrounded by my friends. We had our own inside jokes, we knew about our quirky habits, and we had so much fun. As I have dedicated myself to many different hobbies: badminton, pen spinning, card magic, programming, weightlifting, etc, I noticed that each of these hobbies/interests had their own worlds that I completely immersed myself in. The pen spinning community had it’s own community, with its own inside jokes and even a language we developed over time. It’s kind of like that word sonder.

sonder – n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.

In the context of academics, every major has a whole world and community behind it, and I want to be able to experience those worlds. And more importantly, I wanted to genuinely connect with these new people who were crazy in love with the things they did. Hanging around with students exclusively from your major would, in a way, feel confining. So I guess what I’m trying to say is that we can find passion or fall in love with anything, as long as we’re open minded and willing to enjoy it.

Going back to the discomfort I felt at Swarthmore, I knew that in order for me to grow as a human, I’m going to sooner or later have to face that discomfort. I knew that if I wound up attending an engineering school, I would be extremely comfortable there, I would have tons of fun with people who I shared interests with. We played the same video games, we had the same quirky internet behavior, etc. But at the same time, the thing I want most is to progress, to change. How much would it suck if I came out of college exactly the same as I was right now in high school? Something my Swat admissions staff told me and something I agree with is that yes, Swarthmore is going to be extremely challenging. Honestly though, that is how I’m going to grow. I’ve been coasting throughout my whole high school career, and although it was fun, it left me bored and ultimately unfulfilled. If I’m going to be coasting through college all four years, then basically it’s like me wasting my time at an expensive summer camp.

At a technical school, I see myself graduating, meeting people who will become my best friends, and probably working at some tech company — which indeed is a great life. At Swat, however, I honestly have no idea who I will become or where I will end up, but maybe that’s the why I want to go there so badly. I would’ve never seen myself going to a liberal arts college, but hey, that’s a whole new world that I will be able to be a part of.

I’m still scared of how much work I will be doing, how well I’m going to make friends, how far I will be away from home. I’m thinking: fuck me, this is going to be very, very hard. But that’s why I chose Swarthmore, I will face these fears in order to grow. My best friend told me something that I will hold onto as I go on exploring my life in college.

“You need to cast away the chains of comfort to become the man you never were.” – Andrew Guan