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AlfredaPrufrock's avatar

What do people mean by "too smart for their own good"?

Asked by AlfredaPrufrock (9374points) December 3rd, 2008

My parents visited for Thanksgiving, and my mom said about my neice that she was too smart for her own good (she’s 4 years old, and quite pleasant to be around.) My mom said the same thing about my daughters when they were young, and it has me wondering, do people think dull-witted children are preferable to intelligent ones? Why would someone say something like that?

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23 Answers

steve6's avatar

I think it must be akin to “curiosity killed the cat”.

elchoopanebre's avatar

Maybe they mean smart enough to get themselves into trouble that a person with average intelligence would not get themselves into.

AlfredaPrufrock's avatar

@elchoopanbre, but these are kids that can amuse themselves for an hour with a jar of buttons. They color and put the crayons away after they finish using each one. My niece had a sheet over a chair and stayed under it with the dog, doing heavens knows what. We could hear her singing, and the dog didn’t seem to mind.

funkdaddy's avatar

“too smart for your own good” generally means someone is out thinking themselves. Logic tends to be very black and white and someone who is absolutely sure of their own intelligence will hold to logic rather than adapt to new information or the situation. People usually grow out of it with experience and understanding of the fabulous gray areas… at least that’s what it means to me.

For kids it’s things like finding out you didn’t know something they learned in school and with that information assuming they must be more intelligent as well.

Grandma still loves her ;) and was probably just remarking about her intelligence… I doubt it meant much on a 4 year old.

Tantigirl's avatar

AlfredaPrufrock – It sounds to me as though your niece’s and your children’s actions are due to good parenting, not being too smart for their own good. I think you’re obviously loving mum simply has the wrong end of the stick. ;)

steve6's avatar

Maybe it’s just a term of endearment. Like “you’re cute enough to eat”. People don’t mean that literally. I think I’ll just stick with “curiosity killed the cat”.

TitsMcGhee's avatar

I’d have to agree with the above and add that it’s probably because smarter children are bound to get themselves into a little more trouble in the process of trying to figure things out and investigate things and whatnot. Or it may refer to the fact that she might be able to find out things beyond her years that could corrupt her, hence, too smart for her own good.

queenzboulevard's avatar

Too smart for their own good means their vast amount of knowledge will burst their tiny child-brains.

steve6's avatar

Ha Ha lol You should be on stage. Are you?

TitsMcGhee's avatar

@steve6: Who is the you to?

steve6's avatar

queenz, @tits, I get the feeling maybe you are on the stage, you have a certain attraction.

TitsMcGhee's avatar

Ah, okay. It’s good to preface things like that with an ”@username”

wundayatta's avatar

It is not a compliment. ON the contrary, it is an expression of annoyance. Usually it means the child has contradicted the elder using some piece of knowledge, and the elder feels chagrined and dissed.

I was told I was too smart for my own good, or a “wise guy” multiple times in childhood. Now my parents are doing it to my son. It is not pleasant. It’s a way of trying to make a child feel bad, and it is bullying.

The problem, for me, is that if it happens once, and not again, is it worth trying to correct my parents about it? I’d like to, but I don’t know how much energy it would take. But maybe you can do what I can’t do. Maybe you can correct your Mom, or your sister or brother can correct her. Maybe it’s not worth fighting.

We do sit down with our son when this happens, and validate his feelings. We tell him my Dad and Mom did this to me, and it is hurtful, and we understand his feelings, and we feel my parents shouldn’t do this.

As a result of this kind of bullying, my kids no longer want to spend long periods of time with them. They usually spend a week or two each year. No longer, though. I wonder if we should tell my parents why? Or just let is slide.

AlfredaPrufrock's avatar

@daloon, that’s the situation exactly. I’ve even tried making the comment, “That’s right, in this family, we prefer children be stupid,” which gets a laugh from the kids (who have understood sarcasm since the age of three) and a dirty look from my mother. I guess I, too, am too smart for my own good…

wundayatta's avatar

Ya, alfreda, I, too, was much too smart for my own good, at least, according to my parents. My boy is, too, but I am relishing that instead of punishing him for it. I actually enjoy cleverness, even if it serves the purpose of defeating my wishes.

tiffyandthewall's avatar

i’m not sure in that exact situation, but i’ve said that about a lot of the students in my AP classes. in my case, i think there’s a point that you can be so smart that it’s more of a negative thing. for example, we’re reading Huck Finn in english. the book obviously does have underlying morals and whatnot, but it took us a half hour to get through the introduction to it (we read the first chapter as a class because my teacher adores the book and wanted to bring us into it the right way i guess) because everyone was just asking these ridiculous questions, trying to read into everything Huck says. it’s just really, again, ridiculous. though i doubt the kids you know are like that, that’s my definition of being ‘too smart for your own good’, haha {=

sweetoldetcetra's avatar

When I hear that term “too smart for your own good” I think of Lisa Simpson and how her intellegence can more of a liability than an asset. Or how Josiah Bartlet often felt uncomfortable about his intellegence in the West Wing.

Sometimes smart people can find themselves in a situation where they think differently than most kids.. and they might be in a situation where they don’t understand why others don’t understand something that is obvious to them…It could be that they end up taking interest in something more intellectual, which may be unusual subject among their peers.

I don’t remember the name of the short story but I remember reading about how Mark Twain has lost his simple pleasure of looking at a river, because he has acquired too much knowledge about it to enjoy it like other people.

I am not saying ignorance is always a bliss, but being smart can cause a lot of problem.. just like being too tall, or too talented… you stand out in some way, and it can annoy people & make them feel insecure. In some ways you lose the ability to be just like other kids for whatever natural gift you were given to you.

btw the fact that both your account name and my name is based on a name of a poem can be seen an reference exclusive to educated people, and nerdy to others, even though thats not our intent :)

dp13's avatar

If yall want a good answer here goes… the question about “Being too smart for ones own good” has the answer right in the sentence.. If somebody is too smart for their own good its not necessarily a good thing or a bad thing.. sometimes a person can overthink a situation, or their above average intelligence leads to curiousity.. or they know too much that it makes them paranoid.. basically they don’t really have control on how smart they are, they have a lot of knowledge.. but not necessarily the wisdom to go along with it. it is both a compliment and a semi-derogitory thing.. like “damn that kids too smart for his own good..” (he knows everything.. but he’s sooo paranoid because of it..) Watch the movie (“The Illusionist”) In that Movie they say the Prince is too smart for his own good.. what they mean is that he’s so smart he’s always trying to figure out the answer to every underlying thing.. rather than just watching and enjoying the show. In your childs case.. when they say being too smart for her own good.. it means that maybe she’s really smart for her age, so she says things that adults do and tries to talk like an adult, but maybe it offended the adult that recieved the comment, and rather than realizing it came from a four year old and laughing, that person probably took offense to it. My honest opinion is dont worry about it.. your kid is 4.. Unless she is naming every president or cannot do the normal things of a four year old.. then I would say she is normal :P

loroezlol's avatar

@sweetoldetcetra I don’t really think your first point about being too smart for your own good demonstrates something bad with the person. If not with the people around them, it just says that people shun what they can’t understand. It’s not “you’re too smart for your own good” if not you’re too smart for my own sake. It just brings out a commonplace inferiority complex among people who aren’t as bright as the other person. If anything, people make things worse by this, they make intelligence feel as a bad thing.

Kevin3780's avatar

People are not too smart for their own good. Intellect is a treasure for you and the world to share. I do feel intellect can be used for devious purposes, but telling people they are too smart for their own good (especially young people) will cause them to dumb themselves down and short change themselves.

Intellect is a trait to be treasured not condemned. Perhaps, the people telling others they are too smart for their own good need to do a wise thing and keep their mouth shut.

lizpattterson's avatar


Ettina's avatar

In a lot of social situations, being unusually smart can be a disadvantage. In school, for example, classes are aimed at kids around 100 IQ. A kid in the 110–120 range will often get As and Bs, but kids over 120 sometimes get so bored with the slow pace that they can’t focus on assignments, or give answers that the teacher hadn’t thought of or doesn’t know about (most teachers, if they don’t understand your answer, will automatically mark it wrong).

It can also be a disadvantage when making friends. A very bright kid is likely to have interests in topics that average kids don’t understand. Meanwhile, social skills are not closely correlated with intelligence, so most bright kids have age-level social skills. Especially in younger ages, this means they won’t know how to adjust their interaction for their social partner’s intelligence level, so they’ll have more trouble finding topics or activities they can share with other kids.

They can also get into more conflict with authority figures. When authority figures abuse their power or set rules that don’t make logical sense, bright people are more likely to notice this. And many times, they’ll want to challenge the authority figure over this. In totalitarian countries, the political prisoners are usually really smart people who asked too many questions. Even in a democracy, noticing when authority figures are wrong can make it harder to get along with teachers, bosses, and in some cases police officers.

I don’t know if your mother was thinking of these issues, but it is definitely possible to be ‘too smart for your own good’.

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