Child Genius – isn’t it really all about the parents?

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Child Genius Final 2016
Child Genius Final 2016

I’ve been interviewed by The Daily Mail and appeared on LBC radio discussing the final of ‘Child Genius’ the Channel 4 programme that pits very bright & gifted children in competition with each other.

As a former Deputy Head and Class Teacher for 25 years I felt uncomfortable watching some of the parents ambition for recognition and significance. Two of the mothers banded around words & phrases like ‘sacrifice’ & ‘giving up my career’ as they left their high powered successful careers for the sake of coaching or shall we say ‘hot housing’ their children, which worries me as it smacks of martyrdom, which is never a great gift to give children.

I often found myself wondering ‘who wants this more?’ the child or the mother.

Also I ponder what values the children are learning from their parents and from the process itself.

As a former Deputy Head for many years, and a parent myself of a child who was assessed as gifted when he was 3, I just wonder what impact this way of living has on children.

One of the issues not really discussed much in the media was the rather unedifying, unhealthy sibling rivalry of two of the children in the same family.

I have yet to meet a parent who doesn’t want the best for their children and who doesn’t want them to succeed in life. But success means different things to different people.

Success isn’t just about being able to ‘win’ at all costs in my opinion.

Success is intertwined with happiness for me.

Learning for me is about developing a well rounded individual with qualities of kindness, empathy, tenacity, perseverance, curiosity, conscientiousness, optimism and self-control & altruism and the ability to have a go, make mistakes and get back up again rather than only ensuring a child’s ”cognitive’’ ability to learn facts, and spell words, that I wondered if they knew the meaning of.

I just wonder what exposing their children to this type of stress or cosseting and pressure will do to them.

It will certainly be difficult to make friends and I wonder about that sense of belonging that is important to most children.

I wonder what hyper – attentive parents do to you long term as a child?

I wonder if it makes you feel a failure if you make a mistake?

I wonder if it makes you a perfectionist, where you never feel good enough?

I wonder if it makes you feel that your childhood was conditional on certain things falling into place for you to feel loved?

I wonder if being celebrated for being so different makes you feel isolated?

I wonder what it says about YOU and your childhood and your sense of  success and the need to feel validated  – if you feel the need to push your children all the time.

Surely creating a life long learner is the goal not a child genius – wouldn’t it  be better to encourage a child to motivate themselves than push them?

All questions really for us all to ponder as there are lots of studies showing that the pressure children are under to succeed (and that means trophies and test scores and getting into the right university) can also be counterproductive. The traditional methods of assimilating knowledge, by rote learning for instance, advocated by Amy Chua in her book, ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother’ do not necessarily prepare children for the successful futures we assume they will.

Nevertheless it gives us all food for thought as we ponder what success looks like for each of us and what we want to pass on to our children.

I personally never felt the need to live vicariously through my children. I just want them to be happy and to fulfil their own dreams, to work hard and play hard, be kind to others and have fun and enjoy this wonderful world.

Congratulations to all the children – I hope they enjoyed the experience and will have happy memories of their time on Child Genius but I also ponder the responsibility of Channel 4 around what role they played just to make ‘good’ compelling, controversial TV.

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