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Over the last decade, the United States has seen an increased use of IQ test in schools. However, this increase in popularity has not been met with approval from many experts.  

Today, it isn’t uncommon for children as young as age six to participate in an IQ test if a parent or educator believes they are either exceptionally gifted or learning at a slower rate than their peers. While IQ tests have their place and benefit among adults, recent studies suggest that for adolescents, these tests can be harmful psychologically and can end up hurting the future development (regardless of the score).

There are many different types of tests and  scores, but nearly all focus on subject areas like mathematics, reading, oral language, and written language. The other common thread between nearly all IQ tests is the use of labels. These may include descriptors like “exceptionally gifted” or “disabled”. In a setting where a child’s emotional and psychological development hasn’t fully matured, these types of labels can be detrimental to the future growth and motivation for a child. Regardless of where a child lands on the spectrum, they can easily fall into the trap of believing they are defined by their label. When this happens, it can affect the motivation a child has for studying and preserving during a challenging lesson.

The study of learning and intrinsic motivation has recently been made popular by Carol Dweck and a viral TedTalk. Dweck is known for publishing research focused on encouraging and cultivating a “growth mindset”. From analyzing behaviors in children, Dweck discovered that children remain motivated when praised for a specific process, rather than a result. In a classroom setting, this would be praising a child for diligently studying for a test, which they received a great grade on. When children are praised for a specific process, they develop a growth mindset for life and are able and more willing to face more challenges.

On the other hand, when children participate in an IQ test, they often leave with a numerical value or label associated with them. For children that score well, this can be harmful because they often receive very little praise for the work and effort they put into achieving such a great score. As a result, they may begin to believe they don’t need to work as hard as others.

Children that receive a poor score or label from an IQ test also face a negative psychological impact. When a children under the age of sixteen is labeled “developmentally delayed”, or another negative rating, children inevitably lose self-confidence during an important stage in their life. In her article fighting against the use of IQ tests for children, author Jessica Lahey points out the things can change quickly, and IQ tests don’t always reflect this. “Intelligence is not a data point that, once pinned down, stays put forever. How much intelligence and aptitude shifts over a lifetime is highly dependent on environment”.

If parents and educators are going to continue to test children and communicate IQ results with children, they need to be prepared to re-evaluate the child consistently over time, so that progress can be shared appropriately.