The children who know-it-all

We grew up learning from Michel de Montaigne that it was better to have a ”head well built than a head too full”. I am not too sure if I translated well the ideas of this philosopher as well as he wanted to express it but I am seeing everywhere those kids who knows-it-all. They fantasize on their high IQ, they take words here and there and they make a conclusion for themselves. Should it be the way our children behave in the years to come? The worse, the same one are delinquent and have an ill directed life or fail to succeed in school.. They often failed in what they tried to perform or never finished on time any task requested by their teachers.

You have to look deeply in your own family to see if your children have always insisted in being right while everyone else is wrong? Often they will assert their opinions by drowning out everyone else around them regardless whether or no they know what they are talking about.

This overbearing behavior becomes annoying and frustrating for the parents and friends involved in the conversation. How dare kids of my generation would behave in such a way. Time has changed and a new generation of kids that we are calling “pain in the neck” are emerging and dictating their way with the only experience of what they learn from their computer or their cell phone. They believe that attitude brings power to them.

I recently returned from Brazil on a Friday morning, landed in New-York city and met a pleasant youngster,19 year-olds, supposedly in college but not too interested in going to his courses and flanking most of his classes. Driving us back to New-Jersey, he proudly was talking about what he just learned about religion; subject he has never been interested in. In facts, he has always demonstrated to his mother a categorical refusal to follow the doctrine of the catholic church and was told once by his late dad, while growing, that God did not exist and it was foolish to believe in the contrary. This young teenager is now becoming a preacher in selective parts of Theology, expressing his expert opinion on part of the old testament. I may only guess that all this recent knowledge may have been dictated by some of his new Jewish friends in college. After all this refusal to learn about the catholic doctrine, he is asserting himself with the discovery of Abraham and his sons Isaac and Ishmael. He is preaching to us, his new discovered revelation that he recently comprehended and explaining to us the gospel of the bible like important lessons of life. We may have failed his class if he were our teacher because as Christians, we follow more the new testament although we have as well learned from the old.

Soon, the discussion turned on Politics: Republicans and Democrats, and his expert opinions were presented on each of the many democratic candidates. Each were given a score with chances for a win or a loss at the next election scheduled in 2 years. He knew it all. A twist of the conversation to appreciate and compare the beauty of the last two first ladies or the ugliness of their actions, the poor choice of their husbands as president. More also on the teaching for tolerance on homosexuals. In fact, this was a complete course in which our “expert” dictated his clear views on Tolerance, Theology, Politics and Moral. He tried also Healthcare but did not adventure much in it because I have the impression that he needed to be a little more prepared before presenting his assertions. He definitely was not sufficiently comfortable in the topic nor he did completely learn on the subject. I will be patient because, the day will come for him to lecture us again. Although, he mentioned looking for a job in a determined hospital of the area, I suppose he will need a little time to explore Healthcare. We really look forward to learn more from such a teacher on the manners to behave in the new society. I was told finally, that once all the elders of my generation disappear, a new brainy generation will emerge, able to create a new world order with the absolute knowledge they have obtained from the internet.

Our “teacher” took only one hour to expose his “doctrine” and believe me, it was a complete course in all topics addressed. We wish him luck with the same energy to complete the required courses in college, so he would be able to reach the level required for the profession of his choice if he can choose any. For the moment, we would like him to graduate with a University diploma of some kind of academic competence. Finally, he told us about our low IQ not able to match his and to comprehend the world he was envisioning for himself.

We believe that, as most kids grow, there is a need for them to develop ideas and interests and find a way to emotionally express themselves. They manifest generally different developmental periods mainly with separation and Individuation. They will continue to learn how to transform their own opinions. Many may struggle with their child behavior with angry outbursts, disrespect, oppositional defiant disorders and even physical abuses.

Others may be influenced by the inappropriate behavior of a school teacher or a bus driver or their own friends. We need to listen to these kids and help them assert their opinions. There are things you can do as a parent to help curtail an irritating or an obnoxious behavior. You have to listen to them at time with an open mind and try to teach them more appropriate ways of behaving inside and outside of the family.

At time, we may be frightened by some kid’s opinions but we need to rationalize and judge them on their behavior and not on their opinions or ideas. Most often, their ideas are based on peer conversations at school, cultural events, media news, rumors. You may argue but do not keep an argument going. Parents can feel the need to have the last words in a discussion or to be in control which may only serve the urge of the child to argue more. It is not always easy to contradict one stubborn adolescent.

Youngsters tend to be argumentative and if you keep argumenting, they feel more powerful trying to gain control. In fact, they have the power you have given them. So often, we will need to remind them of the consequences and privileges in the house. A house with no rule for discipline is a house where kids are driven to their own directives. One of the most powerful reaction you may exhibit to the know-it-alls’ kids is to avoid responding when you are being dragged into an argument. Be respectful and disengage when you can. State your opinion honestly and tell them that you have to do something else.

Often, in the middle of a family reunion, such kids will find a way to bring an argument while watching TV or driving a car. It is important to make them understand that everyone’s opinion is valued so they can avoid harassing others with their negativity. Many parents found a non-verbal tool for helping the child in his inappropriate behavior without embarrassing him. They may not let others express themselves. Often, we can say that we are tired of this bickering or we are not listening. Remember as a parent, we do not have to participate into any argument but we can recommend a rule of 60 seconds. They will need to learn how to deal with the opinions of others.

Younger children should be much more respectful of how knowledgeable an adult who have been on earth at least 20, or 30 or 40 years longer than any preschool-age children or adolescent and what in the world could possibly make them question anything you say?

Adolescents can consistently act as if they know more than you do. If you tell them that it will be nice to visit the Botanic Garden, they will answer that will be boring because they have seen enough flowers in their short lifetime. They invent different opinions for each thing. We may know that they will learn a lot while visiting the garden but their mind is set, they may have more interest in checking it up on the internet.

Many children keep bringing challenges in imposing clearly their will. I have seen one complimenting his mother from her beauty one morning just to announce her that he has made plans to go in a shooting session for practice, anyway. He is sending a message to tell that he will go no matter in spite of being forbidden to go. He will assert clearly that he knows more than you, parents, grand-parents, teachers etc. As Michel de Montaigne says it well: “We can be knowledgeable of other men’s knowledge but we cannot be wise with other men’s wisdom”.

They are genius. They learn more about storybooks, television, smart cell phone, but when asked about events in storybooks, they simply believe that they will never happen to them because they do not look real. More, even if they have never seen it nor heard of it, they will assure you that they have seen or heard about everything in this world. To one youngster, I described the lessons she can learn from the book “The Little Prince”, written by Antoine St Exupery. She answered me “No, thanks, it is a so boring book. Just by looking at it. She missed the opportunity to comprehend what one can call a child’s fable for adults with gentle but strong reminder that the best things in life are still the simplest ones, when real wealth is given to others. I learned so much in reading it.

In returning to the study, one has to conclude that the young children overestimate their knowledge while they become unreceptive to the possibility of any adverse event, any new animal or a new food preference. As they grow older, they will become more capable to understand their lack of knowledge and they will develop a need to look for information from their elders.

We believe that there is hope when a child starts to understand how many hours of sleep is required to function well or what kind of vegetables he/she should eat regularly.

In adolescent development class teaching, one teacher told me how he talks to the students about the “Storm and Stress” theory: The fact that most of them are depressed and under the influence of raging hormones. By the age of 13, they start to hate their parents until they reach puberty.

It may be different to parenting a middle “schooler” than a youngster. Adolescents are in a way like toddlers with rapid changes in physical growth. They need a lot of good food but prefer junk food. They sleep late and are deprived of sleep. They become tired and hungry. They exhibit mood swing. Indeed, they need balanced food and a lot of sleep but they prefer playing videogames and cell phone videos.

Middle “schoolers” think that they are lawyers and like to argue. Some will say that they fit facts to their theories instead of theories to facts. They anticipate your arguments and twist them at will. They built arguments just to defy common sense.

During the past two decades, researchers in developmental neuroscience have demonstrated that the kid brain continues to change and grow during the second and third decade of life, especially in the executive functioning area allowing one to integrate multiple demands as emotional impulses or other stimuli. It was proven that emotional decision-making becomes less dominant while the teenagers grow older so much that the US Supreme Court argues that teens are not fully capable in performing terrible crimes so they should not be eligible for any death sentence.

Others, taking the counter side, will ask why a typical 16 years old drive like he does have missing parts on his brain? Many adds or medias seems to believe that they are not acting rationally well. They are bad drivers. In facts, while they get older, they generate hypotheses to test others or to develop their willingness to ignore the logical inconsistencies in their own arguments. They remain relentless.

Nothing is so annoying when a know-it-all doesn’t do the obvious and try to make things right. The problem with know-it-alls is that they don’t know all. They see a simple solution on which they lack a full knowledge of the complexities that make it a simple solution. Smarty pants, wise guy, smart aleck, we all know one at a family together, or in an office, or in a social event. “Knows-it-alls” are everywhere and know everything. It can become unbearable to spend time with these annoying individuals. At time, it might be best to avoid one. Therefore, be prepared to deal with them in showing understanding.

Whether it is a personality disorder or a need for excessive admiration or arrogance, these issues have to be addressed. The root of all understanding is Respect. Only when you can appreciate know-it-alls for who they are, you will be able to realize and understand where they are coming from.

I believe that the discipline at home is the key in the emancipation of the youngster while politeness in the argumentative phases of discussion maybe a reflection in the education he/she has received. I wish all may find time in exploring the essays of Michel de Montaigne. So let us conclude with his words:

“Even from the infancy, we frame them to the sports of Love: their instruction, behavior, attire, grace, learning and all their words azimuth always at love, respects only affection. Their nurses and their keepers imprint no other thing in them”. (Michel de Montaigne).

I would like to dedicate this article to all the know-it-all kids of this generation.

Maxime Coles MD


1-    Jacqueline Wooley PHD: “Children are Know-it-alls”.

2-    Jeremy E Sherman PHD: “Seven alternative explanations for Know-it-all behavior.

3-    James Lehman MSW: “I am right and you are wrong: Is your child s know-it-all.

4-    Kim Abraham LMSW, Marney Studaker-Cordner LMSW: “How to respond to a disrespectful children and teens.

5-    Megan Devine LCPC: “How to deal with teens with attitude”.

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