From Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to J.D. Salinger’s Glass family, the world has always been fascinated with child prodigies.
A child who is more intelligent or more talented than most adults becomes the target for much admiration and celebration. On the flip side, they are sometimes objectified and have to face suspicion, jealousy and an immense amount of pressure to be “the best.”
Indeed, a parent of a gifted child turned down an interview request with her son, age 8, saying any media attention would adversely affect him. Similarly, another boy with a genius level IQ, identified through the British television series “Child Genius,” also declined to be interviewed, saying he was trying to get away from such labels.
But two other youth were at ease with the attention that comes with being highly talented. David Liang, 13, is an exemplary math student. An eighth-grader at Creekside Middle School in Carmel, he’s competed in many math contests and is taking advanced high school math this year. But the attention doesn’t bother him. “I’m just fine with it,” he said.
Alexander Prior, 17, also doesn’t shy from the spotlight. A young composer and conductor from London who has already enjoyed a fair amount of professional success and media attention, he wouldn’t have it any other way: “My life is enjoyable ’cause I do what I love. I’m a musician and I love the work, enjoying the music. I can’t imagine working … I’d rather die.”
The fact that a child genius or prodigy (generally IQ of 145 or above; successful in an adult field) would face high expectations from the world is normal—given their talents, they would naturally be expected to excel.
And parents would understandably want to help develop their child’s gift to its maximum potential. Therefore, it is reasonable to think that such a child would feel under pressure.
Jill Adrian, director of family services at the Davidson Institute for Talent Development in Reno, Nev., offers counseling for families of gifted children and says that “most often it really is not the case.” She believes that it is usually the child who leads the effort to make the most of his or her talents.
According to Adrian, a supportive family is key for any child living up to potential. The Davidson Institute staff “work individually with the parent to really observe their child – is the child happy? – and offer up opportunities, getting back to the basics and seeing what really interests their child and keeps them happy.” She strongly believes in this customized approach because each family is different.
David feels no pressure from his parents. He has competed in several national mathematics competitions. Last spring he earned a perfect score in the regional MathCounts competition and came in third in the state contest, earning him a spot on the Indiana MathCounts team that competed in national competition in May (they came in sixth).
David also takes private math classes at IUPUI as well as studying independently at school, as he has already finished all the classes offered. In his free time, he plays on a soccer team and has since age 6. He’s a committed soccer player and sometimes finds he has to make a choice between it and math. “Math does conflict with soccer a little bit, and depending on which events happen to be more important, I’ll go to that one,” he said.
His outstanding academic abilities subject him to no singular treatment from his friends, classmates or teachers. Indeed, he likes school for many of the same reasons other kids do. “I enjoy going to school, meeting friends and stuff. Lunchtime is cool,” he said.
Alexander lives a much less average life. Son of a British green-energy businessman and a Russian art historian, he is already an accomplished composer and conductor. He is in his fourth year studying at the St. Petersburg Conservatory in Russia.
Interviewed from London, he credits his mother for getting him interested in music. “My mother was in the world of art and enjoyed music very much,” he said. “I was lucky enough to be taken to the theater, ballet and concerts at a very young age.”
He composed his first written piece at age 9, and has since written more than 40 pieces, many of which have won awards. He travels all over the world and earlier this year took part in the British television documentary, “The World’s Greatest Musical Prodigies.” The documentary followed Alexander as he helped to pick four highly talented young musicians, who then went on to perform his quadruple concerto at Sage Hall in Gateshead, England.
Unlike David, Alexander is not in a public school classroom but already out in the world, chasing his dreams. A typical day is long, he says, and includes “conducting class, orchestra, composition classes, listening to the history of music and all these different things.” In his spare time, he likes to take long walks.
His friends are generally other talented musicians he has met through work or the conservatory. “They’re all 18 or 19 or 20 and so on. I have some who are much, much, much, much older than me,” he said.
He has found that some musicians do hold his age against him until they meet. “You have to just get the orchestra to understand that you respect them and that you are a fellow musician,” he said.
In fact, the attention he has received because of his youth has been more help than hindrance, he said.
“One good thing about getting a lot of attention is that it allows me to do a lot more, you know?”
Assistant editor: Victoria Kreyden, 14.
Reporters: James Officer, 12; Charlie Osborne, 13.
Copyright 2009 Y-Press