You are raising a depressed being in the name of a smart kid

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Meet this boy.

Tudor, age eight.

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Tudor was one of the participants in a child genius competition, organized in association with British Mensa, to find the UK’s brightest young mind. Some extraordinarily smart children who have scored 98th percentile or higher on a standardized intelligence exam participate in this competition. The competition consists of rounds that challenge the children to spell words such as psephology (the science of studying election statistics) or answer math questions such as ‘multiply 24 by 4, subtract 16 and multiply by 8, and finally divide by 2’.

Amongst his other achievements, Tudor had been picked to play soccer for three Premier League junior teams, including Chelsea. In this picture, he is seen hiding his face in his hand as he weeps on the sets of the competition, for being under tremendous pressure to perform. Tudor was asked to recall the order of two packs of randomly shuffled cards in less than an hour. And a general knowledge question: What is the measure of the ability for a substance to become magnetized?

Yet, rather than feeling proud of his son’s achievements and supporting him, here’s what his dad told him:

‘Maybe you’re not as good as we thought’… ‘There’s still a lot to be done.’

Sourced from here.

To prepare Tudor for this competition, an intensive amount of effort is put in by his parents.

Tudor is surrounded by dictionaries, encyclopedias and post-it notes while he eats his meal, and is filmed being quizzed by his father. Any wrong answers are dismissed by his mother with words such as ‘ridiculous.’ These parents live by the parenting philosophy that ‘the right combination of happiness- as well as fear- produces genius.’

Sourced from here.

Tudor isn’t alone.

There is Josh, nine, whose mother told him he needed 50,000 practice hours to become a chess grandmaster by the age of 13. He writhed in discomfort as she told him to keep going to the next round of the competition, despite the fact he had hardly scored a point and complained to her that he felt ill.

There is Connor, nine, a smarty who memorized the entire periodic table in two weeks. His mother announces without a shred of embarrassment:

‘Of course, I want him to do well. I want to show off. Is that bad?’ ‘I want to go around and say: “Look how clever my son is. Aren’t I great?”

Sourced from here.

There is Aliyah, nine, whose parents describe their approach to bringing up their daughter as a ‘well-bred race horse.’

One mother, who plasters spellings all over the bathroom walls to prepare her child for that particular round, declares:

‘If the child is successful, it’s the parents. If the child fails, it’s not the child’s fault- it’s the lack of parenting.’

Sourced from here.

There is Eleanor, age twelve, a smart book-reader who devours 100 novels a month. She broke down before she even made it to the podium.

Eleanor, age twelve.

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These are examples of some of the smartest kids- who have perfect education records, solve complex math problems, score the highest percentiles on intelligence exams. A lot of effort is put in by their determined parents to prepare them for the ‘big world,’ and to ‘be ahead of the game.’ Yet after so many accomplishments to their name, they lack confidence. They are depressed, stressed, anxious beings who can have nervous breakdowns at one wrong answer.

Yet, there is another kid, a participant in the same competition, with parents slightly different than the rest.

Meet Shrinidhi Prakash

She was crowned Britain’s child genius in 2013. Aged 11 then, she was one of 21 finalists battling it out for the title. She also held the title of under-12 World Scrabble Champion in 2012, scorecard for Shrinidhi Prakash, and under-10 a couple years earlier. She moved to UK from India, three years prior to winning the Child Genius title.

When other kids broke down under immense pressure, Srinidhi appeared calm, keeping her head. She managed to recall the order of an entire pack of 52 playing cards, and scored victory with a debate on whether money brings happiness.

A still from the episode

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Most important thing, she appeared least pushed by her parents. Her Indian parents also appeared quite mild-mannered as compared to other tiger mothers in the show.

Here is what her mother has to say.

“There is no tiger parenting at work. ‘We are not chasing anything. Shrinidhi is not driven by achievement. She doesn’t work to targets. She simply follows what interests her.’

‘The moment you start chasing a target becomes the moment you feel the pressure of being a genius. We did not enter her to win, but for the experience – and to meet other like-minded children on her level. She did hit off with several of them and is still in touch. That way you enjoy the journey.”

About preparing her for the competition, she says, “I didn’t coach her to memorize 52 cards in row for the competition. She invented her own system by naming them after characters in her favorite books. Everyone knows how to get the best out of their child. Personally, I know that Shrinidhi is best if I leave her to be natural.”

Sourced from here.

And here is what Srinidhi has to say:

“I owe my success to my family and to the fact that I don’t push myself too hard. My house rules are: Don’t slog, but don’t laze. Also, don’t do something you don’t enjoy.”

Sourced from here.

That’s how you raise smart kids. You don’t force your kid to work to targets or to score highest percentiles, you just let her do what interests her. You don’t ask her to participate in a competition to get a trophy, you ask her do it for the experience. You don’t pressurize your kid to perform well, but ask her to enjoy it, to have fun out of the experience. And when you do that, the end result is a kid who is calm, can keep her head and isn’t afraid of letting a wrong answer out of her mouth. She is confident, irrespective of the outcome of the competition, or whatever exam. She knows she is smart and can trust herself.

  1. Let them follow their interests

And not impose your interests on them, as you may be doing right now.

The more they care about fulfilling your interests, the more they lose focus from their interests.

Ask them what would they like to do rather than what they should do as per you.

That’s how you raise a kid with a mind of her own.

2. Let them enjoy the journey

And not take the fun away by going after an ulterior motive.

The more education is forced on them to obtain an external reward, the more they’ll suffer through it, wanting to get over with it quickly.

Rather help them develop a positive attitude towards education.

That’s how you raise a kid who never ceases to learn, and reaps the joys of learning in the long run.

3. Encourage them to participate for the experience

And not to win.

The more there is the pressure to win, the more easily they’ll break down. And more they’ll believe that they are successful only when they win an external reward. Even if they win, they can’t enjoy the success, because they feel they could’ve done better.

A kid who is smart, has an inner sense of purpose and is able to laugh and enjoy life.

A more relatable Indian context can be found in this answer I wrote on Quora, with specific instructions Indian parents provide to their wards 😉