Josh Nakazawa, child cello prodigy, gifted children as likely to fail in life,, Pragmatic Mom

Gifted Children Just as Likely to Fail Life

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.’

By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom


  1. I agree wholeheartedly. Our daughter was identified as “gifted” in elementary school (U.S.) and although we allowed her to participate in advanced courses of study in subjects she was interested in, we did not support her being placed into classes containing ONLY other gifted students.

  2. Gifted and Succesful

    You are hurting your child with your decision.

    Truly gifted children need to be with similar peers (all the research studies support this) and my husband and I were both the happiest (and most challenged) in gifted-only classes.

    This article is about how parents shouldn’t hothouse or pressure their children. All things I agree with. Parents should support their children in their interests. My son wanted to learn to read and I thought he was too young, but I helped him. He’s 2 and reading at a first grade level. Will I make him sit through Kindergarten if he doesn’t want to–no way.

    Your child will be hurt be being in too-easy classes. She won’t develop any study skills or become comfortable with failure, and when she gets into University, she will fail because she won’t know how to work hard.

    She is exactly what this article describes: a gifted child likely to fail in the future. You don’t have to believe me, go read the research.

    • I think the key success factor is emotional intelligence rather than IQ or special talents. Kindergarten focuses on social behavior, following routines and directions, etc. as much as academics (reading, writing and math). I think these social skills are really, really important. Going to a gifted school does not necessarily mean a child won’t get these skills, but they are already in a self-selected group that doesn’t reflect what they will face in the real world work place. Too easy classes should not be an issue in Kindergarten; the teacher should be able to differentiate levels of academics but the social piece is truly the most important: learning to play in groups particularly triangles, ability to lead AND follow, taking turns, understanding a different point of view, being patient, being kind, how to enter a group, knowing that making new friends does mean you are ignoring or losing your old best friend, being independent — able to do drop off play dates and birthday parties, etc.

  3. Gifted and Succesful

    And the fact that I mistyped some words, doesn’t mean my opinion is any less valid. 🙂

  4. I am considered “gifted” and about once every once a week (give or take a few days) I go to a gifted class where we work on projects with other “gifted” kids in school. It’s nice. We are there for about 30 minutes. I like it. 🙂 My school wanted to put me 2 grades ahead but my parents wanted me to be with kids my age (I am glad about that). My teachers are good and they keep me interested in what they are teaching (even though I think school is pretty easy). I get to do stuff I like out of school (like reviewing books and taking other languages and learning history).
    Erik TKRB recently posted…Erik’s Thanksgiving Picks!My Profile

    • Hi Erik,
      I don’t think this article applies to you and that you’d be likely to fail in life. I think it’s more about “Tiger Parenting” and pushing gifted kids too much as well as not letting them develop life skills like learning to rebound from failure. You seem so well rounded and talented in so many areas that I would comfortably predict that you will succeed in any endeavor you set your mind towards. And I think that is the key — to let kids set their own goals rather than the parents deciding the goals for their kids.

      As an Asian American mom, I see that a lot, particularly from my generation where some of my friends were expected to win Nobel prizes by their parents in order to win their approval.

      I am so excited that you are working on writing your own picture books and I feel lucky that I get to watch your journey through your blog. 🙂
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…New eBay Collections Make Holiday Shopping Easy!My Profile

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