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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.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/thinking-man/10623941/Your-child-is-not-a-genius.-Get-over-it.html



by on Apr. 11, 2014 at 7:43 PM
Replies (21-30):
blueforewolf
by on Apr. 12, 2014 at 6:00 AM
1 mom liked this

I always wanted my kids to just be happy with their lives

EntrepeneurMom
by Bronze Member on Apr. 12, 2014 at 6:06 AM
1 mom liked this
I was too, and I have keeping-up-with-the-Joneses parents. It's a miserable combination. I've been told ds is "above average" but I have no interest in pursuing it. He's 3 and should be playing with cars and mud, not being forced to sit in front of a spelling book for hours like I was.

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.

stormcris
by Christy on Apr. 12, 2014 at 6:29 AM

Does it actually require higher than the amount to be a good cryptographer or is it simply that they must see things in a different way than is average?

Quoting Clairwil:


Quoting stormcris:

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.

Depends upon the job.   The amount that's sufficient to be a great cryptographer is higher than the amount that's sufficient to be a great bus driver.

Managing cryptographers is a different type of job from being a cryptographer, and requires a different skill set.


He is quite correct that, for most fields, success requires many other attributes, not just IQ.  And that, beyond a certain threshold amount of IQ, the bottleneck is likely to be one of those others.

On the other hand, someone with an IQ of 160 would probably be bored stiff working as a bus driver.   They're likely to gravitate towards the sort of job or role where the threshold 'sufficient' amount isn't too much lower than what they have.


momtoscott
by Platinum Member on Apr. 12, 2014 at 6:44 AM
1 mom liked this
I have no problem with parents wanting their kids to be intelligent, since that's a valuable tool that helps a kid get through life. My own experience in growing up smart but not genius (IQ in the 140s) was problematic, because I was just not quite smart enough to be the child my mother, especially, felt she had deserved.

The expectations and the ways parents sometimes go about trying to force intelligence into genius can do a lot of damage.


Quoting Clairwil:

Quoting stormcris:

Your child is not a genius. Get over it

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 [...]

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

I don't think it is a bad thing for parents to want things to be better for their children than in the previous generation.   Much healthier than the sort of parent who limits their child to make sure the child obeys and doesn't "get above themselves".

You see it in parents who want the children to be richer.   You see it in parents who want the children to be better educated.   So why wouldn't it apply also to wanting the children to be smarter?

The problems stem from confusion over how much of it is due to nurture rather than nature, and over most people's lack of an instinctive grasp of the difference betweeen 1 in 10,000 and 1 in 10,000,000

After about 3 digits, their eyes glaze over, and they just mentally pidgeonhole it as "big number".   Which is fine, unless you then need to compare it with another big number.   You see the same thing happening in lotteries.   People see "$500,000 prize money" but fail to correctly compare that with the odds of winning.

I wouldn't have minded a child who was a genius.  I wouldn't have minded a child who sings well enough to release platinum records.   Fostering either takes more than the average amount of parenting effort.  But, of the two, I suspect the later is more likely to end up with loads of money.

Clairwil
by Ruby Member on Apr. 12, 2014 at 7:28 AM
1 mom liked this


Quoting stormcris:

Does it actually require higher than the amount to be a good cryptographer or is it simply that they must see things in a different way than is average?

Lots of smart computer programmers understand the existing cryptographic algorithms, and can create new protocols using them.

Creating new algorithms that are efficient and secure, or cracking existing algorithms that were thought to be secure is something different.  It is direct competition in an arms race.

got2boys
by New Member on Apr. 12, 2014 at 7:31 AM
1 mom liked this

I think my kids are genius's but then I am predjudice lol cause the Lord know I am not a genius 

romalove
by Roma on Apr. 12, 2014 at 9:17 AM
2 moms liked this

I have three kids.  Each of them has different abilities and intelligences.  I don't think there is one catch-all definitive intelligence.  My goal for all of them has been to have them maximize their abilities so they can be as happy and productive as possible.  My son wasn't academic, hated school, if he liked a class he would get an A and if he hated it would skate through with a D and be just as happy either way.  College wasn't for him, but he is a hard worker, and he's amazing working retail at knowing how to merchandise and manage.  He is an assistant manager at a big box home improvements store, and they have targeted him to be on track to manage his own store.  He is in his 20's and making a great living and really enjoying what he does.  My middle daughter was very academic but an average to slightly above average student.  She did graduate college and is working.  My youngest child is academic but moreso is musically gifted.  She is going to college on scholarship for music (composition and viola) in the fall.  Is she a genius?  I think for general intelligences she is above average, maybe even way above average, but genius is a high mark.  But her greatest strength, her greatest intelligence, is her musical ability.  They don't have that on a test.

As long as they are happy and productive in their lives, being a genius adds little to nothing to their resume.

mokeekee
by Member on Apr. 12, 2014 at 9:23 AM
My mom had me tested as a kid and I qualified, but it used to make me so irritated when she'd brag about it to people. I don't consider myself genius, I consider myself very smart but I really just think most people are pretty stupid. My kids are very smart but I don't care if they're geniuses, I have no reason to test them or anything. I just want them to be smart, happy, and relatively successful.
Sisteract
by Whoopie on Apr. 12, 2014 at 9:28 AM
1 mom liked this

I have never had mine tested.

I do know that on standardized tests they both did well. One really well.

In terms of school, neither one was the smartest in the class, but both are University grads (one has a MA too) and working in their selected fields.

The smarter of the 2 was also the laziest student on the planet. 

Shrugs- as adults, they are both disciplined, happy, nice and social people.

Kaya529
by Silver Member on Apr. 12, 2014 at 9:29 AM
I am more interested in a child who has a more well rounded intelligence than to be a genius. My father was a genius but lacked social intelligence and common sense. There were so many issues in his life because of it. I wouldn't wish that on anyone.
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