Wednesday, October 31, 2012

How to raise a prodigy

The New York Times magazine has a lengthy essay this week on "How do you raise a prodigy?" adapted from Andrew Solomon's forthcoming book, Far from the Tree. Solomon does a good job of introducing the topic of profound giftedness to the public, explaining that it is not an unalloyed positive. Such children do not fit into the normal mold of childhood, and so parenting such a child is a challenge. One has to walk a fine line between pushing too much -- the narrative of many a prodigy flame-out story -- and the less-told tale of not pushing enough. After all, a child with prodigious musical talent who isn't given access to good teachers and isn't given enough time to practice will not develop as he could. As one mother pointed out in this story, her child isn't normal. So why should he have a normal childhood? It's actually impossible. Solomon ends by saying that "I don’t think I would love my children more if they could play Rachmaninoff’s Third, and I hope I wouldn’t love them less for having that consuming skill, any more than I would if they were affected with a chronic illness. But I am frankly relieved that so far, they show no such uncanny aptitude."

That's a fascinating way to look at the issue. I wonder how often parents of children with profound gifts wish that things were more normal in their lives. I imagine it's not infrequent.


Anonymous said...

There was a time when I wished my child was not at the "PG" level of giftedness, but as the child has grown, it's OK because I can see past that.

When she goes after a passion, there is no expectation that she will achieve x. It is just for enjoyment. And, when the joy turns to burden, I have removed my child from the situation where she was at a very high level and people began to have visions for her. Yes, I probably denied her development of prodigious talents. Would she have become a "prodigy"? Well yes, if it's just defined as having adult level skill at an early age, but would she have been 60 minutes TV worthy? Who cares?

There's a difference between pushing a child to develop him/herself and pushing a child to develop a talent/skill. It's harder when you have a child who has some awesome abilities, but we still need to keep our eye on the child's development, rather than the talent development.

Gwyn Ridenhour said...

What a fabulous article; I truly enjoyed it and found it especially relevant to me as one of my prodigy children follows his passion as a musician.

I think raising kids like this is like holding a pot of fire. You have to nurture and tend to it constantly lest it go out, and you can't ever put it down or look away, because it takes so much attention. It can get heavy and burn you (out), but I wouldn't trade it for any other pot, because it gives off such amazing (and sometimes blinding) light.

dedicated1776 said...

I fall into the "not pushed enough" category. My mom was so concerned with my emotional development (having read many horror stories of gifted kids who grow up to be criminals or battle mental illness) that, in my opinion, she held me back. Now, I'm not mad at my mom. She was the bestest mom EVER, and a kid can't articulate at 6 years old that more pushing would be best. But I do wonder how my life would be different if she had pushed me more, or been more able to tackle challenging topics with me (like math, which I am still deficient in).

Anyway, my point is, don't beat yourselves up too much. You're going to make a mistake with your kids, but if they know you're on their side, they'll forgive you. I'm not a parent but I was a kid (we all were), so I try to think from their perspective. From a kid's point of view, what's cruel is when parents want something for their kids to make themselves feel better, not because it's in their kids' best interest.