Descriptions of indigo children include:
- the belief that they are empathetic, curious, strong-willed, independent, and often perceived by friends and family as being strange;
- possess a clear sense of self-definition and purpose;
- exhibit a strong innate sub-conscious spirituality from early childhood (which, however, does not necessarily imply a direct interest in spiritual or religious areas);
- a strong feeling of entitlement, or "deserving to be here."
- a high intelligence quotient, an inherent intuitive ability; and
- resistance to rigid, control-based paradigms of authority.
According to Tober and Carroll, indigo children may function poorly in conventional schools due to their rejection of rigid authority, being smarter (or more spiritually mature) than their teachers, and a lack of response to guilt-, fear- or manipulation-based discipline.
According to research psychologist Russell Barkley, the New Age movement has yet to produce empirical evidence of the existence of indigo children, as the traits most commonly attributed to them were akin to the Forer effect (i.e., so vague they could describe nearly anyone). Many critics see the concept of indigo children as made up of extremely general traits, a sham diagnosis that is an alternative to a medical diagnosis, with a complete lack of science or studies to support it. The lack of scientific foundation is acknowledged by some believers, including Doreen Virtue, author of The Care and Feeding of Indigos, and James Twyman, who produced two films on indigo children and who offers materials and courses related to the phenomenon. Virtue has been criticized for claiming to have a Ph.D., despite this being awarded by California Coast University, a then-unaccredited institution sometimes accused of being a diploma mill.