What matters, instead, is whether we are able to help her develop a very different set of qualities, a list that includes persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit, and self-confidence. Economists refer to these as noncognitive skills, psychologists call them personality traits, and the rest of us sometimes think of them as character
scientists have reached a consensus in the past decade that the key channel through which early adversity causes damage to developing bodies and brains is stress
It wasn’t poverty itself that was compromising the executive-function abilities of the poor kids. It was the stress that went along with it.
The second, called the cognitive control system, allows you to regulate all those urges. The reason the teenage years have always been such a perilous time, Steinberg says, is that the incentive processing system reaches its full power in early adolescence while the cognitive control system doesn’t finish maturing until you’re in your twenties. So for a few wild years, we are all madly processing incentives without a corresponding control system to keep our behavior in check
Parents and other caregivers who are able to form close, nurturing relationships with their children can foster resilience in them that protects them from many of the worst effects of a harsh early environment. This message can sound a bit warm and fuzzy, but it is rooted in cold, hard science. The effect of good parenting is not just emotional or psychological, the neuroscientists say; it is biochemical.
But the principle behind it—improving children’s outcomes by promoting stronger relationships between children and their parents—is increasingly in use across the country in a wide variety of interventions
Seligman and Peterson defined character in a different way: a set of abilities or strengths that are very much changeable—entirely malleable, in fact. They are skills you can learn; they are skills you can practice; and they are skills you can teach
It seemed that what Stefl was attempting to do was convince her students that not just their intelligence and their character but their very destinies were malleable; that their past performance was not an indication of their future results