Are Gifted Kids More Successful in Life? No!
I told a reader that I’d post this article and just happened upon it again after failing to locate through several Google searches. Are exceptionally talented kids more likely to succeed in life? Are the cards dealt early? This article says otherwise and it does make sense: the first child to walk is not necessarily winning gold medals at the Olympics. Early readers are not the highest scoring children in literacy at elementary school. It turns out, according to this article at least, that the future success of exceptionally talented kids is highly dependent on good parenting — not the pushy kind.
Case in point:
The image featured is of my daughter’s flute teacher‘s son who is a talented cellist and was, quite possibly, a child prodigy. He’s a well rounded, well mannered and generally grounded young man and I’m happy to say that he’s enjoying great success as post graduate student for performance. How did parenting come into play here?
- The mom is a talented flutist but she said her son told her at 4 years of age that he “needed” a cello after hanging out with the orchestra in the back waiting for her. She explained the difference between “want” and “need” but he persisted so she produced a 1/8 size cello for him. She wasn’t the one who chose music for her child not did she select the instrument.
- She was not a sporty person growing up but her son was and is a talented athlete. She signed him up for whatever sport he asked for (baseball, hockey, etc.) and then drove him to all his practices and games.
- Other “sporty” parents would recommend this league or that sports camp for him and she’d do as advised as long as her son was into it.
- She helped him with cello practice for a long time (maybe middle school) by sitting in during his practice session but only gave assistance when asked.
- She didn’t try to live vicariously through her son thus he was free to chose his own goals and aspirations. I think that is the key point. Of course, she is a talented musician in her own right but I think her ability to step back and let her son chose his own path in life significantly contributed to his success as an adult.
She recently sent me a link to an article that she contributed to that has their story.
The pertinent points of the article are in bold and italicized. Is this surprising to you? Exceptionally talented children just as likely to fail in life as succeed and that parenting is the lever that puts the child into one category versus the other?
Success and failure: Child music prodigy Anna Markland went on to become a professional musician. However Andrew Halliburton, a maths prodigy, could not capitalise on his early promise and ended up working at a McDonalds restaurant.
Exceptionally talented children are just as likely to fail in life as succeed according to a new study.
In one of the most extensive studies carried out, research found that out of 210 gifted children followed into later life, only three per cent were found to fulfil their early promise.
Professor Joan Freeman, said that of 210 children in her study, ‘maybe only half a dozen might have been what we might consider conventionally successful.‘
At the age of six or seven, the gifted child has potential for amazing things, but many of them are caught in situations where their potentials is handicapped.’
Professor Freeman tracked the development of children who had exceptional ability in fields such as maths, art or music from 1974 to the present day.
Many of those who failed to excel did so because the ‘gifted’ children were treated and in some cases robbed of their childhood, the study found.
In some cases pushy parents put the children under too much pressure, or they were separated from their peer group, so they ended up having few friends.
The research findings follow a decision earlier this year to scrap a £20million National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth set up by the government eight years ago.
While meant to aid high achievers in state schools, it was considered to have failed to live up to its intended purpose.
Professor Freeman is keen to emphasise that ‘the gifted’ are no more emotionally fragile than anyone else – and may even have ‘greater emotional strength.’
But she said that ‘being gifted means being better able to deal with things intellectually but not always emotionally.
She adds: ‘I want to stress that the gifted are normal people. But they face special challenges, especially unreal expectations, notably being seen as strange and unhappy.
‘Others such as parents and teachers, can feel threatened by them and react with put-downs. What they need is acceptance for who they are, appropriate opportunities to develop their potential and reliable moral support.’
An example of a child prodigy who failed to achieve early promise includes Andrew Halliburton, who studied maths at secondary school level at the age of eight.
capitalise on his early promise and ended up working in McDonalds.
He quit university and ended up working at a McDonald’s burger restaurant, although he now plans to return to study.
Other examples of the differing paths gifted children can take is illustrated by Anna Markland and Jocelyn Lavin, who both started at Chetham’s school of music, in Manchester on the same day at 11.
Markland, now 46, from Princes Risborough, Buckinghamshire, went on to be the BBC Young Musician of the Year, 1982. She went on to study music at Oxford, did two years postgraduate study, and now is a profesional musician, which for her is ‘the best job in the world.’
By contrast, her friend Jocelyn turned her back on music to pursue science, and got the best A-level grades of all 210 children in the study – six A grades.
But after going to University College London at 17 she failed her finals in Maths and Astronomy and left without a degree.
After 20 years as a school maths teacher she has resigned, and her home is under threat of repossession because of mortgage arrears.
She said: ‘I didn’t know what I wanted to do, apart from go into space’, she said in the book.
Part of the problem for the gifted, Professor Freeman says, is that often the gifted excel in many areas – and may have to try out several things before they settle in one discipline.
Ultimately attempts to ‘hothouse’ children will fail if they are put under enormous pressure to perform.
She writes: ‘The pleasures and creativity of childhood are the basis of all great work. Take childhood away from children.’