Should Genius Kids Know Their IQs?

She is barely out of diapers, but the world already knows 2-year-old Karina Oakley is a genius. Her mother, Charlotte Fraser, revealed to the British media Tuesday that a London-based intelligence researcher estimated her young daughter's IQ around 160.

This March, America learned it had its own genius child. Six-year-old Pranav Veera of Ohio made the media rounds after he scored 176 on an IQ test.

Although millions of us celebrate these children's brilliance on TV shows that air past their bedtime, childhood development experts debate whether Pranav and Karina should ever have been told.

Genius School

"We don't usually tell children what their IQ scores are," said Sylvia Rimm, a child psychologist and author of "Why Bright Kids Get Poor Grades, and What You Can Do About It."

"The overemphasis on how brilliant they are often leaves them with a pressured existence trying to living up to their potential," she said.

Rimm has seen many clearly gifted children begin to shun work, fall short or even fail due to a psychological trap.

"The root of gifted underachievement is that kids feel that they need to prove how smart they are all the time," said Rimm. "When they're young and in school and they find school easy, they then get into the habit of equating smart with easy."

If that happens, especially if "gifted becomes a title over their head," Rimm said children may just simply walk away from any challenging schoolwork to protect a fragile identity.

"When challenge gets there, it feels threatening [and] they think, 'Suppose people find out that I'm not that smart?'" said Rimm.

Rimm said she would not even venture to use the word "gifted" unless a parent has to do so to explain something, nor would she ever bring up a specific IQ.

But intelligence researcher Joan Freeman, who tested Oakley, takes a slightly less restrictive view. Freeman has followed 210 "gifted" children and children with normal abilities for 35 years. In her research, she has seen children's awareness of IQ both help and hinder them as they grow.

"Some children are happy and proud, and some children are really affected by it," said Freeman. "They begin to feel that that's all that people value them for. ... For some children, it's frightening to be gifted."

Can the Label 'Gifted' Be Counterproductive?

When dealing with such pressure, Freeman said, most children "take it on the chin," and move on with their lives. She thinks each child's outcome might have more to do with personality and family dynamics than the specific knowledge of IQ.

Freeman also pointed out that for every child like Oakley or Pranav in the media, there are thousands of children in London and millions in the United States with the same high IQ who remain anonymous.

Tests in elementary school showed James Elens, now 24, has an IQ in the mid-150s, but his parents did not inform him until he was much older.

James Elens, of Pensacola, Fla., is one of those people. Teachers first tested Elens' IQ in kindergarten, but he quit halfway through the exam.

"I took the first half of the test, and in the second half of the test I got angry at them because they told me these questions didn't have to have answers," said Elens, who is now 24.

He took an IQ test again in fifth-grade on the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS) to see if he could qualify for special programs for gifted children.

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
Join the Discussion
You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...