Based on an excellent suggestion by GE reader Taia, today's post deals with a recent Wall Street Journal article on Bill Gates Sr. and Bill Gates Jr.
Bill Gates Sr. has mostly stayed out of the limelight, but with a short book coming out, he agreed to talk to the WSJ about Bill Gates' childhood. The article reveals some fascinating details. Young Bill read the encyclopedia at a young age, and became very intellectually curious. Mrs. Gates (Bill Gates Jr.'s mother) was fairly strict with young Bill. When he started to become rather obnoxious -- a not uncommon thing for highly gifted young people -- and talking back to her, questioning her authority, the two fought a lot. This resulted in one dinner table incident of Bill Gates Sr. throwing a glass of water in Bill Jr.'s face.
After that, the parents enrolled Bill Jr. in counseling. The counselor advised them to ease up on the boy a bit. While this may or may not be the right move for other gifted young people, having the freedom to explore lots of things in the real, grown-up world, definitely helped satisfy Bill Jr.'s curiosity. His parents transferred him to Lakeside (known as the school where he learned about computers) and let him spend late nights working with the University of Washington's computer facilities. This helped him build up programming expertise, which became necessary when he started Microsoft a few years later. They also still provided a lot of familial support even after Bill Jr. dropped out of college (his mom actually checked on whether he had clean shirts!)
Lots of parents of highly gifted kids struggle with what to do with their precocious adolescents. On one hand, these young people have the minds of adults. They can interact with adults on their level or beyond, and are often capable of thinking into the future and accepting responsibility. But, on the other hand, they can still have some of the impulses and generalized stupidity that come from being 13. And even if they are quite mature, the outside world is not willing to let such young people accept the privileges and responsibilities of adulthood.
I'm curious how readers of Gifted Exchange have dealt with the conflicts involved in raising a gifted teenager. How do you give the child the freedom to explore his or her interests, while protecting them from making life-altering mistakes? And how do you know if those "mistakes" aren't really mistakes (such as Bill Gates dropping out of Harvard)?