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Genius Children

Channel 4 TV Documentary, 8 February 2007


The filmmakers visited six families with children who all had IQs so high as technically to be described as of ‘genius' intelligence level. By analogy with the ground-breaking sociological series Seven, where the children ( are now grown-ups in their fifties) had been filmed every seven years, the cameras will return at intervals (here two years), to see how the Genius Children's families are faring.


We saw two things; certainly, the great precocity of the children, and, except in one case, a very significant disjuncture between the parents' and children's intellectual capacities. That led to great, but sometimes misguided, efforts in bringing up their child ‘geniuses.' The parents had no real context for assessing their children's abilities.


A Musical Genius?

MP's specific interest arises from the fact that among the children who had already chosen future vocations (such as chess, medicine, politics, philosophy and the church) there was a 10 year old girl, Amy, who was labelled a musical prodigy. She proudly showed her winner's certificate from a music festival and rattled off a long list of competitions she was going to enter.


What this girl was not, by any stretch of the imagination, was a musical prodigy, let alone a musical genius.


The sound track to her slot was a (very nice) performance of a piece set for Associated Board Grade 5. The proud but uncomprehending parents had no idea that the teachers' ‘a very promising student' comments was a gentle let-down.


At ten, Kissin played both Chopin piano concertos; at eleven, in the final of BBC Young Musician, Benjamin Grosvenor gave a performance of the Ravel piano concerto that would have pleased any active adult professional concert pianist. This girl, whose festival win was at a local amateur under-12 competition, is already doomed to disappointment.


One suspects the programme makers know they can't lose on this one. Just as we watch show jumping, Ski Sunday or Formula 1 not just to see great skill, but also horses ploughing into fences, powdery wipe-outs and high speed crashes, so we know full well that these children risk intellectual underachievement or emotional difficulty. Indeed, no attempt was made to hide the eccentricities of any of the parenting strategies, and the child psychologist who interviewed most of the children also commented that many prodigies grow up to have quite ‘normal' lives.


There is a world of difference between filming a child who is already in the public eye through his achievement (such as Grosvenor indeed, or, say, a gymnast as was Olga Korbut or Nadia Comaneci) and encouraging others to participate in a kind of slow-motion Einstein Big Brother show+.


In only one case was the child already an achiever (a child novelist who - probably not coincidentally - had a parent who was a humanities academic and therefore in far closer intellectual bond); the others were ‘just' people with very high IQs.


All the parents involved seemed to have extraordinarily high expectations for their children, and in turn, the children already felt they were only loved when they achieved.


Were the parents hoping for some reflected glory? What will happen when the musical girl and her parents discover she has no chance of a piano-playing career? Above all, one wondered how these parents could not have realised that growing up with TV cameras in the house would greatly add to the pressure on their own children.


Ying Chang

Mini-biographies at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/02/09/ngenius09.xml