I am feeling dumb.
I checked out Lifetime’s new reality competition series, Child Genius interested in checking out the intriguing partnership between American Mensa (A society for people with high IQs) and Lifetime, (the home of True Tori and Bad Girls Club, so take from that what you will.)
In the interest of full disclosure, I was once a member of American Mensa, but the brilliant kids in this competition are the crème-de-la-creme with IQs measured in the top .1% in the nation instead of Mensa’s normal top 2% criterion.
So again, I am feeling dumb.
The competition spans over 8 weeks with 16 grueling rounds of competition in subjects ranging from math to memory, so the winner of the competition, who earns a $100,000 college scholarship, will be brilliant in multiple subjects instead of a hyper-specialist in a certain area.
Ahead of the competition we meet a few of the smarty-pants participants and they are simply incredible. The competition’s 20 participants have lofty goals like earning PhDs before earning their driver’s licenses, are musical virtuosos, speak multiple languages, are devoted siblings, and seem like pretty nice kids. But these kids know they’re smart, so sometimes you see that big brains have big egos. I’m no expert, perhaps the confidence they express is the same that elite athletes had when they were kids — I can’t imagine that LeBron James was shy, but in most cases, the kids are normal, (read: hyper) kids. Normal in the sense that some of them are already college students and all of them seem to spend their free time cramming, studying, and learning insane geography facts by rote. In this competition, a high IQ can only take these kids so far, to win they need to be practiced and prepared. You don’t get to be the best of the best without working harder than the rest.
I am still feeling dumb.
The day of the first two rounds of competition, 20 gifted kids from around the county gather to be tested in the competition’s first two subjects, math and geography. After these first rounds of competition, the five lowest-performing kids will be eliminated.
I like math. In my childhood, I did quite well in math competitions, and I considered myself a “mathlete” just a much as I was a Division 1 college athlete. But after the first few math questions, my head was spinning,
And I was feeling dumb.
Editing made it seem that the kids were answering multi-part problems instantaneously, and I don’t doubt that some of the answers were “no brainers” to the young braniacs, but I would have loved a moment to let my dim-witted dome see if it could figure out a math problem or two.
As a parent, I was interested in watching the reactions of the parents sitting in the audience and I saw a wide range of emotions: happiness, joy, fear, shame, disgust and disappointment flash across the faces of the parents. And a few weren’t too subtle, which was a distraction to the already stressed kids.
Lisa Van Gemert, Mensa’s Youth and Education Ambassador, explains why some of the competitors’ parents are a bit intense: “Many of these parents are also gifted,” she says. “And they see the kids almost as avatars. Sometimes parents will cross that line from being really great facilitators for gifted kids to being almost hovercraft. They leave helicopter parents in the dust.” Van Gemert is featured in each episode where she explains the week’s competition and offers insight into the lives of these brilliant kids and their families.
To me, the parents are the most interesting aspect of this show. A few of the parents I’d like to slap — their constant wheedling would drive me insane. And I actually found myself rooting agains one seemingly sweet kid because the child’s parents were so obnoxious (actually a few of the parents were pretty terrible, while others are awesome). But I recognize that these bright kids haven’t risen to an elite intellectual state without the encouragement (or pushing) from their parents, but simply imagining my 7 year-old in a competition like this makes my palms sweat.
And makes me feel dumb.
What do other parents think of Child Genius?
Would you allow your child to participate in a competition like this?
Do you push your child for academic perfection?
Were you feeling as dumb as I was during last night’s episode?
Child Genius > Lifetime > Tuesdays at 10pm ET/PT
Photo by Emily Shur © 2015