What Are Child Geniuses Like As Adults?

ByABC News via logo
November 11, 2005, 1:02 PM

Nov. 12, 2005 — -- Child prodigies fascinate us. But what happens to a prodigy when he or she is no longer a child? "Good Morning America" Weekend Edition visited with Michael Kearney, whom we first met 10 years ago with Meredith Vieira on the ABC News program "Turning Point."

Back then, Kearney was the youngest college grad ever at age 10, earning him a place in the "Guiness Book of World Records."

"We put him in college to keep him normal," Kevin Kearney, Michael's father, told "Turning Point." "He needed to be in high school when he was 5 to be normal, and he needed to be in college when he was 6 to be normal."

There's a lot of debate about whether pushing a prodigy through school early is the right thing to do. But Michael's parents were convinced he needed the mental stimulation. And they didn't shield him from the public spotlight, even putting him on the "Tonight Show."

Kearney's goal was to become a game show host, he told "Turning Point."

"I've learned all of Bob Barker's mannerisms, all of Alex Trebek's mannerisms," he said.

The Kearney family packed up all their belongings and moved to Hollywood so he could shoot a pilot for a game show. That didn't work out. When we last saw him, his future was uncertain.

On "Turning Point," Viera asked him where he thought he would be in 30 years.

"Do you think about it all?" she asked.

"Not really, because you can't really think about it, you know?" he said.

Gifted children are more likely than their peers to become successful adults -- look at Mozart, Pablo Picasso and Bill Gates. But exceptional intelligence doesn't guarantee happiness. Unabomber Ted Kaczynski is the most glaring example of child genius gone wrong.

Psychologists say the teenage years are often the toughest.

"The tension between what you've been able to do as a child and what you're starting to become as an adult can mean that that's going to be a quite turbulent kind of period of time for a child prodigy," said Dr. David Feldman, a professor of child development at Tufts University.