If you give your kids a personality test, are you acquiring an invaluable tool that will help you parent better, or encouraging stereotypes and labeling?

I asked myself that question recently when one of my favorite bloggers, career expert Penelope Trunk, wrote a post about knowing your child’s Myers-Briggs type.

Trunk is a fan of the Myers-Briggs, the famed personality test that assigns you a four-letter type:

  • I or E for introvert or extrovert
  • S or N for sensing or intuitive
  • F or T for feeling or thinking
  • J or P for judging or perceiving

Trunk asserts the test “helps you understand how your personality and your kids’ personalities work together. It teaches you to teach your kids better, guide them better and stop clashing with them.”

Trunk writes, “Understanding Myers-Briggs testing has made me so much more confident in my ability to choose what’s right for my kids.”

I asked myself, could this be true, and if it is, how could I not have this information? Parenting is my biggest job. Who doesn’t want to get better at their most important job?

I went to personalitypage.com and gave my kids a free, online test, which turned out to be fun. Our 10-year-old son had the patience to answer the questions when I read them out loud. During the test, though, I wondered: Did the very act of asking the questions—much less telling him his type—cause my kid to label himself, to slot him into a category, before he even had a chance to become himself? I called Carol Cann, a therapist in private practice in Evanston.

“While Myers-Briggs has been shown to be accurate, children are still changing,” Cann says. “The other problem is that you aren’t seeing the whole self. But like a lot of psychological tests, it can be a time-saver, and that’s why corporations use it.”

Cann worries that parents might use the test in unintended ways, such as “to try to mold their kids’ personalities.” She says that “among psycho-dynamically oriented therapists, it’s not used much.” In other words, she gets even better information from simply talking to her clients.

My conclusion?

The cons: Labels are dangerous things. Our son tested as an extrovert, but I’ll never forget his preschool teacher telling me he was “slow to warm up”—a brilliant way to get around calling him shy. Being labeled as shy would have been inaccurate, and could have had lifetime consequences.

The pros: The test gave me the ability to see my oldest son’s great qualities in a new light. Where I once saw lack of organization and inability to get things done on time (usually my time, by the way), I now saw a flexible, spontaneous, tolerant and accepting child—all attributes I now appreciate even more.

My advice: Giving the test was fine for a 10-year-old, but I wouldn’t try it much younger. And, you might consider keeping the results to yourself and not revealing them to your child, to make sure they don’t categorize themselves before they become the wonderful people they are meant to be.