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Your child is not a genius. Get over it

The desire for genius children is a powerful force in middle-class and it's making everyone miserable, especially our offspring, says Alex Proud

Even if your child were a genius, like Stewie from Family Guy, he might not be happy

I’m not being mindlessly provocative here, I’m being honest. Depending on the definition of genius you use, the frequency of the ultra-clever in the general population ranges from about one in 750 to one in 10,000. I don’t know 750 or even 75 kids. So, even allowing for you being cleverer than normal, your child is almost certainly not a genius. In fact, even if you take the wishy-washy, special-snowflake, Andy-Warhol-was-a-genius definition of genius, I would still bet heavily against your child being a genius. And what is more, you shouldn’t want your child to be a genius.

Which brings me to the real question: why do you want your child to be a genius? Ten minutes’ dinner party conversation is enough to demonstrate the desire for genius children is a powerful force in middle-class Britain and is responsible for more bien-pensant angst than all the ethically sourced products in the world put together. This unhealthy genius-lust drives people to say things like, “My nine year old is reading Flaubert” before adding, “in translation, unfortunately” thus turning their ghastly boast into an even more ghastly humblebrag.

However, even though the chattering-classes are to blame for all sorts of silliness, I can’t bring myself to blame them entirely here. For some reason, in this country, we start educating kids the moment they leave the maternity ward. By four or five, we’ve got reading levels and parents are fretting: what can our preschooler’s reading level tell us about his Oxbridge prospects? About a year back, like any good parent, I was freaking out over my son’s remedial reading level. Then, suddenly, he leapt two levels in a single bound. I relaxed. Only a genius would jump two levels in one day.

All joking aside, this is hugely stressful for parents. It’s pretty horrible for teachers too. They have to write doctorate-length reports on six year olds. I imagine this must involve quite a bit of creativity. I mean, how do you stretch, “Poppy is happy, runs around a lot and can read” out over seven pages? Of course, these ludicrously over-written reports just fuel parents’ anxieties. They scour the text with all the attentiveness of a terrorist reading a nuclear reactor user’s manual, desperately looking for evidence of genius, when 90% of the report is oatmeal filler.

Parents’ evenings are a kind of role-playing version of this. You sit down an hour late because the progression-obsessed parents ahead of you have overrun their slots and the poor teacher has to construct some meaningful and compelling narrative from “Your child is doing fine”. The content of most parents’ evenings could be conveyed in a text message; I often wish it was.

However, while the middle classes are not wholly responsible for our genius fixation, they must shoulder their share of the blame. Over the last couple of decades well-off Brits have got it into their heads that they can buy anything. Leaving aside this being a slightly distasteful, American notion (we should be better than this, and not so long ago we were) it just isn’t true when it comes to your offspring. You can’t buy your kids clever. What’s more, if they’re merely above average, by sending them to some hideous Holland Park hothouse, you’re probably buying them miserable.

This leads to tragi-comic moments. When a child’s struggles with reading and maths become such that the genius hat no longer fits, parents suddenly decide they must have special needs (which, of course, are likely just a speedbump on the road to genius). Again, this almost certainly won’t be true. Alice will read in her own time – and she’ll be much happier for it.

All this can be quite funny. It’s the stuff you joke about with your wife and your more chilled out friends after a few drinks. But there are real downsides too – and these are not so amusing.

In the state system this endless scorekeeping is a terrible waste of money. Money that would be far better spent where it’s actually needed – on failing schools and kids from disadvantaged backgrounds. It is notable that the Finnish education system, which is widely held up to be one of the world’s best, is not obsessed with rankings. And guess what, it’s a system that works pretty well for everyone, even the gifted.

In the private sector, there’s a slightly different dynamic at work. Parents get caught up in a kind of advantage arms race. They send junior to the very best school they can afford – as that could be the crucial edge that means "ivory tower", not "redbrick". But they fail to see the bigger picture. And the bigger picture is mummy and daddy having to work so hard to pay the fees that the kids are raised by nannies, meaning the school advantage is more than offset by the parental absence and stress at home. If, five years down the line, these long hours lead to a divorce, that’s going to mess Jake up a whole lot worse than not sending him to Eton.

So choose a slightly worse school and be much better parents. Kids love being around you. Talk to them, read books with them and play games with them; teach them to talk to adults. These things are just as important as test scores – and what’s more they’re the basis of happiness. It’s not hard. Or rather it’s not hard to understand, but it is hard to put in the effort day-after-day. I am lucky enough to have the option of taking a 20% pay hit to spend more time at home. It’s been about a year now, but I’m working up to the point where, if someone asks me if my daughter is on reading level 86 or speaks fluent Mandarin, I’ll reply, “No. But she’s happy.”

Perhaps a final question we should ask ourselves is: who wants their child to be a genius anyway? In her 2010 book Gifted Lives, Professor Joan Freeman discovered that, of the 210 child prodigies she studied, only six went on to be hugely successful adults. More anecdotally, it only takes a few years in the workforce to realise that the smarts that get you four A*s are of limited applicability unless you really do want to be a rocket scientist.

Rather, intelligence is a kind of “sufficient” quantity - and someone with an IQ of 140 won’t necessarily be better at their job than someone with an IQ of 120. They probably won’t be better conversationalists and they almost certainly won’t be happier. It pains me to say this but all that whiffle about EQ and soft skills is true. Persuasiveness, empathy, resilience and charm – these have far more day to day use than having read and understood A Brief History of Time, aged 14.

In fact, I’ve always thought that there should be a class at the top universities, perhaps a week before graduation. Here you’d be taught that soon, you will be managed by someone thicker than you. And not only that, but they’ll be better at their job than you are – and a decent person.

So, as I say, your child is not a genius – and you should be thankful for this.

by on Apr. 11, 2014 at 7:43 PM
Replies (141-148):
by René on Apr. 14, 2014 at 10:02 PM
1 mom liked this

Thats how I feel.  

Quoting stormcris:

My high IQ has not made me particularly better off. The expectations alone can crush a person and have all to often.

Quoting Outspoken.Mime:

My kids are perfectly average, and I am totally fine with that.

I was one of the geniuses.  I would never want them to have the childhood I had as a result.

How far you go in life depends on your being: tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of both the weak and strong.  Because someday in life you would have been one or all of these.  GeorgeWashingtonCarver

by René on Apr. 14, 2014 at 10:04 PM
1 mom liked this

I didnt read all the replies but I wanna say that extreme intelligence is not something I would wish on anybody.  Ignorance IS bliss IMO.

by Bronze Member on Apr. 14, 2014 at 10:15 PM
1 mom liked this

My kids are smart, they know it and so do I.  I push them to do their best and that's it.  I don't expect them to graduate college at 15

by on Apr. 14, 2014 at 11:54 PM
I'm sure people have varying definitions of "above average". I say I know my kid is above average because her teacher has broached the subject of placement in the gifted program, which confirmed my suspicions based on her behavior and thinking displayed prior. I have been tested and have slightly higher than average IQ and her father has well above average IQ (again confirmed by testing). Most kids have an IQ close to their parents' combined IQ. I don't have any delusions that my child is better than average at everything. I don't want to get my kid tested because right now I don't believe it is necessary.

Quoting stacymomof2: I do get a little bit incredulous with the number of people who claim their kids are genius or even above average. I mean average is most people so how can most kida be above it?

I do think that almost everyone has areas that they can excel in. That should be the focus, to find the things that kids can succeed in and develop that, while of course making sure that they are also able to succeed at a high standard at the basics even if it takes extra work.
by Silver Member on Apr. 15, 2014 at 12:19 AM

Not to burst your bubble, but my dyslexic 12 year old can read a 200 page book in a day when she wants to. You can't make your kid into a genius, and will only make them miserable if you try.

Quoting Mommy1438: Now i read one 200 page book a day. however sadly took 2 to 3 yrs for me to learn social rules boundaries etc. my daughter is ten months and average so far.... but she deff has all genetic potential to become a genus ;) and ima do all i can to make it happen! ps u wrote a books worth sofigured i should too ;)
Quoting Mommy1438: Well, at four yrs I knew about God and all about the Christian faith thru tv and internet alone. By six yrs I knew fully well how the reproductive system worked (gasp,sex!) *and no, noone ever tlked to me about it lol. By age seven I had taught myself to read because I looooooooved to learn. I was eager for school and wanted to be independent and play games online w/o help. So I used to teach myself sounding out words etc. (my parents moved from another state and nobody knew i existed since i was never allowed out of the house so i never went to a dr dentist the store school ANYWHERE until 13yo). By 13 i joined the fun good ol' foster care system.. they put me in school at a 7th grade lvl sure that I would need to go to a lower grade but giving me a chance. i thrived and they were all amazed at how quick i blended in and learned and caught up. i was typing 98wpm by eight grade and almost went to state for spelling bee (who ever heard of the word "laurieol" or something? still dont know).

I am a Home Schooling, Vaccinating, Non spanking, Nightmare Cuddling, Dessert Giving, Bedtime Kissing, Book Reading, Stay at Home Mom. I believe in the benefit of organized after school activities and nosy, involved parents. I believe in spoiling my children. I believe that I have seen the village and I do not want it anywhere near my children. Now for the controversial stuff:  we're Catholic, we're conservative, and we own guns (now there's no need to ask, lol).             Aimee

by on Apr. 15, 2014 at 4:04 AM
She consistently performs above her peers, her ability to recall information, her ability to learn new concepts, her grasp of vocabulary, her teacher is already broaching the idea of putting her in the "gifted program". Her father has a documented IQ well above average, I have a documented IQ above average (although I do suspect multiple head injuries may have negatively impacted my intellectual prowess), most children have an IQ close to their parents'. I don't think she has genius level IQ. I do not think my kid is perfect. I do think she has the potential to succeed in college (when the time comes) with guidance.

Quoting DiaperSkills:
Quoting stormcris:

That sounds really great. :)

Quoting jllcali: I know my child is of above average intelligence, but I'm not going to have her tested at this point. I am glad she is but I do not emphasize it to her. I encourage her to do her best and try to teach her compassion and patience in dealing with others who may not be as quick as her. I want her to go to college and will encourage it, but I won't pressure her to go to an "elite" school or try to push her into any field. Above all, I want her to be happy.

That's really awesome you are supportive of your little one. The only thing I ask though is how do you know your child is above average?
I think Mikel is above average but I also understand that I'm a mother that wants the best for my son. I guess my point is that it's all relative and thinking so highly of your kids puts pressure on yourself as a mother that's not necessary. I know it did for me. I just don't understand why parents have to have kids that are perfect. It took me some time to just realize that no one is perfect, even though my parents expected ME to be perfect as a young one. It hurt more than helped and I was expecting so much from Mikel, doing the same thing to him.
I really think that this country needs to put some real effort in educating future generations, though. It's saddening to see kids too stressed to be a kid and lose it at school and, on the other hand, signs that say "are bathroom is out of order". I'm only curious to see when any one is going to address this two extremes and do some thing to solve this issue, if at all possible.
by Whoopie on Apr. 15, 2014 at 4:04 AM
1 mom liked this

Quoting snookyfritz:

Don't I know it rolling on floor

This is the best answer!

by on Apr. 15, 2014 at 4:29 AM
1 mom liked this
One of my pet peeves is when someone complains about the use of a word they don't know. (barring technical jargon or esoteric vocabulary) I don't think it's unreasonable or "highfalutin" to consider words like apropos, facetious or daft to be in most people's vocabulary.

Quoting stormcris:

I have that life partnership. I cannot read people's intent. I can study them and know what they are deep down, but at the moment intent, I am oblivious. I have that ability to adjust the conversation on social status but it was most likely a learned mechanism that was expected growing up. But, my vocabulary is really broad and even when I shift it down the occasional word is going to be challenged as being highfalutin as they say. My husband is great at reminding me to get out of my own head and reading people. Depending on what test is done our IQ differs greatly. I can be social but real people skills is his strong point. I can read emotions but he can predict what the person will do next. The way people take to him and his abilities leave me in awe. The way I see it working in a business is that you have the person who can construct these great creative ideas and then you have the person who can sell it to the world. I cannot say I have used mine that way. I think it would put stress on the relationship without it happening naturally. I think though you mentioned the key is that it cannot come in some form of competition.

Quoting turtle68:

depends on how high you are up the IQ ratings IMO.  My parents both have / had high intelligence, my father higher than my mother but both had extremely great social skills.  The weak points did not come in the form of competition for either.

Hubby is by far the more intellegent than myself.....however he lacks social graces and doesnt know when to stop with the intelligence and start with the "being human".  My dad knew how to handle both.  I look at them and the difference I see comes with arrogance at knowing your intelligence.  My dad couldnt care less if you were a miner or a supreme court judge...he adjusts his speech and conversation accordingly.  My husband on the surface may not care whether you are a miner or SCJ, but his speech and conversation say differently.  He will lose his audience with the miner as well as annoy the SCJ with his trying to impress conversation.

I can see how a partnership of one being of high IQ and one being of great social skills can help a relationship.  Personally Ive not seen that sort in a life partnership...most of the successful partnerships I have seen have been because they are more in tune with one another intellectually as well as socially.

Quoting stormcris:

I don't know for sure but I don't think you can have it both ways. The higher you are on what is tested for IQ the lower your people skills seem to be. Too bad really that they don't have something that shows all forms of intelligence because there are times I think the people skills or other forms get you much farther. Pairing a person with one set of intelligence with a different set makes for a great combination in a business and life when they learn to support the others weak points. 

Quoting turtle68:

Quoting dawnie1:

My kids are not geniuses, but they have common sense. That will get them far enough.

my least academic kid has the most common sense as well as what I call people smarts.  He has the ability to read people and respond accordingly.  To me...he is my millionaire in the making :-)

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