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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 (31-40):
romalove
by Roma on Apr. 12, 2014 at 9:33 AM

Where I live there is a gifted and talented pull out program they institute in the elementary school after second grade.  My middle daughter, who cared desperately about doing well in school and was a very hard working, conscientious student, was not picked for that program (she's smart but not smart enough).  She came home and wanted to know why some kids had "smart kid" folders but she didn't.  That's what they called their work folders for the pull outs, "smart kid folders".

I am sure my daughter was not the only child to feel "not smart" because of how they handled this issue.

I would say....those in charge of gifted and talented were not "geniuses".

Sisteract
by Whoopie on Apr. 12, 2014 at 9:34 AM
1 mom liked this


Quoting Kaya529: 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.

My son had a friend who is smarter than smart. He is currently in medical school. Thankfully he wants to be a researcher. Your comment described him to a T. He was/is so intense his eyes cross and twitch at times. None of the kids could really relate to him, or him to them. 

Sisteract
by Whoopie on Apr. 12, 2014 at 9:37 AM
1 mom liked this

Lacking in common sense really is a HUGE disadvantage in life.

My hubs and I would have killed a kid like that had a very difficult time parenting a kid who lacked common sense.


Kaya529
by Silver Member on Apr. 12, 2014 at 9:42 AM
I've always felt so bad for people like that. Even worse are the ones that get pushed too hard and completely break down by their in their early 20's. Our society uses them up and spits them out and people like them are so fragile :(

Quoting Sisteract:

Quoting Kaya529: 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.

My son had a friend who is smarter than smart. He is currently in medical school. Thankfully he wants to be a researcher. Your comment described him to a T. He was/is so intense his eyes cross and twitch at times. None of the kids could really relate to him, or him to them. 

JakeandEmmasMom
by Platinum Member on Apr. 12, 2014 at 9:46 AM
1 mom liked this
I'm totally fine with my kids not being geniuses. I just want them to do well in school so that they have as many options available to them as possible when they are deciding what careers they want to persue.
Posted on CafeMom Mobile
romalove
by Roma on Apr. 12, 2014 at 9:47 AM
1 mom liked this


Quoting Kaya529: I've always felt so bad for people like that. Even worse are the ones that get pushed too hard and completely break down by their in their early 20's. Our society uses them up and spits them out and people like them are so fragile :(
Quoting Sisteract:

Quoting Kaya529: 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.

My son had a friend who is smarter than smart. He is currently in medical school. Thankfully he wants to be a researcher. Your comment described him to a T. He was/is so intense his eyes cross and twitch at times. None of the kids could really relate to him, or him to them. 

When you look at the kids who are overachievers, the pressure is tremendous.  Suicide rates at some of the Ivy league schools is scary.  One of my daughter's friends just got into Cornell for September, and while some of the moms I know were impressed, I thought, that's horrible for her.  I knew two people who attempted suicide there, because while at your high school you might be the best and the brightest, you go to a school like that and you might be average among your peers, at best.  The blow to ego is astounding.

meriana
by Platinum Member on Apr. 12, 2014 at 10:27 AM

Every once in awhile there'll be something on the news about a kid, say between the ages of 9 and 12, they talk about the fact that the kid is a genius and is entering some college or university. It's always presented as such a really wonderful thing but I always end up feeling sorry for them. I can't imagine what it must be like for a kid that age to spend every day around nothing but adults, and unable to really have any social life with any of them due to age.

mehamil1
by Platinum Member on Apr. 12, 2014 at 10:36 AM

My kid is not a genius. He's smart, but he's not a rocket scientist. I don't understand the compulsion here. 

JakeandEmmasMom
by Platinum Member on Apr. 12, 2014 at 10:41 AM
I always feel sorry for them too.

Quoting meriana:

Every once in awhile there'll be something on the news about a kid, say between the ages of 9 and 12, they talk about the fact that the kid is a genius and is entering some college or university. It's always presented as such a really wonderful thing but I always end up feeling sorry for them. I can't imagine what it must be like for a kid that age to spend every day around nothing but adults, and unable to really have any social life with any of them due to age.

Posted on CafeMom Mobile
smalltowngal
by Platinum Member on Apr. 12, 2014 at 10:47 AM


Quoting Sisteract:

Quoting Kaya529: 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.

My son had a friend who is smarter than smart. He is currently in medical school. Thankfully he wants to be a researcher. Your comment described him to a T. He was/is so intense his eyes cross and twitch at times. None of the kids could really relate to him, or him to them. 

I have a cousin like that. My father use to say he was too smart for his own good. Part of the reason my husband does so well at his job is he is not only good with programming and has an excellent memory, he also has strong social skills so he's good at dealing with clients. 

I worry a bit about my son because at 5 and he's hyper focused on computers. The only books he is interested in are comic books. He's quiet, shy and extremely sensitive. Luckily, his sister takes after her father and kind of drags him to play and interact more. I do worry that he's going to try hacking a bank by the time he's 12 though. :/ 

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