Child Genius Episode 1: “I am not a Tiger Mommy”

Child Genius
(L to R, B to F) Tanishq, Katherine, Jason, Ryan, Vanya, Jaxon, Katie, Kellan, John, Benjamin, Graham, Yeji, Robbie, Alexa, Eden, Izzy, Adi, Liam, Benjamin and Madison.

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.

Child Genius
11-year-old Katherine prepares to answer a tricky question during the first day of Child Genius competition.

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.

Child Genius
When your know-it-all, doesn’t.

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


  1. Poor Ryan has the typical Chinese parents. Having been married to a Chinese woman for more than twenty years, I know of which I speak. The typical Chinese parent is never satisfied with their child’s accomplishments, or at least they never show it to the child. They are this way because they do not want the child to grow complacent with what they have accomplished. They are expected to always excel. Ryan has done very well, but his parents are not going to let up or praise him in any way. I feel sorry for him if he does not win this competition. His parents are likely to really shame him and point out all his faults. He will never be given a break from thus until he does win a competition. Even then the parents will most likely say, “Why couldn’t you win the other competition?” I know from my in-laws that this behavior will result in animosity and possible separation from the family as soon as possible.

  2. My comment below included Episode 2. I apologize if it didn’t make sense to anyone who only saw Episode 1.

  3. Ryan’s ” I am not a Tiger Mommy” mother, may not think she is, but she is and is also seriously misguided. She NEVER compliments her son. He gets 80% on the Human Body questions and the expressions on his mother’s face were just terrible. Way to go Mommy. Cheer your kid on. That nasty look on your face will make him feel good. An earlier round Ryan scored perfect and she actually said it wasn’t good enough!? Wasn’t good enough? Even his father said at one time ” that’s not good enough”. Yes, these kids are smart, but at least some of the parents let them be kids instead of having every minute of their life scheduled for practicing one thing or another. Every time Ryan’s mother opens her mouth I cringe. I really feel sorry for that child. It’s more important that he have some kind of childhood than satisfy his mommy’s twisted needs for him to be better than perfect. I hope your Boy Scout camping retreat was a ball , Ryan.

  4. 자녀 스스로가 즐겁게 참여하고 경쟁하며 자신의 능력을 개발해 가는 기회를 갖게 되는 것이 바람직 하다고 생각 됩니다.

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