I'm A Teacher, And Sorry: Your Kid Is Definitely NOT A Genius


The truth hurts, but you need to hear it.

Every mother thinks her kid is amazing and special. But in my generation of parents, there's this second-layer or need for our kids to be literal certificate-deserving, award-winning geniuses, the most special of special!

As a teacher, I saw this constantly: every parent bragged about how smart his or her kid was, even if the kid didn't seem to be at rocket scientist level. Now that I'm a mom, I can't exactly blame these parents. To me, everything my daughter does is proof of her brightness or uniqueness — to me.

To today's parent, it matters more that everyone — or someone of some important stature — can validate that our child is as special as we believe him or her to be. This is partially due to the nature of parenting; if we didn't find our kids special they would be at third-world sweatshops making Old Navy t-shirts.

But our society is all about me, me, me. If our kids can be amazing at something, somehow this means we are to some extent (or at the very least) doing something right as parents.

For example, my daughter started reading at a very early age so I figured, "Hey, I must've been doing something right all these years." Of course, I did teach reading and writing skills for a few years in my professional past so I had a good background to help her. But fact is, if I had done nothing at all maybe she'd still have read relatively quickly. 

So I hate to break it to you but your kid is most likely not a genius — and neither is my kid.

She may be very bright; she may be gifted, but out in the world there's someone brighter. Out in the world there are a very, VERY few — infinitesimal  amount of geniuses. There are only so many Einsteins and Shakespeares in our world. If there were a plethora of geniuses, that intelligence level wouldn't be as revered and maybe the world would be a worse or better place. Who knows?

We have daycares with the words "Ivy League" on it in order to legitimize it as a school for smart kids. We have parents who enroll their kids in tutoring centers or with tutors at insanely young ages (think four-year-olds). We have an educational system that's based solely on standardized tests.

We measure, measure, measure and validate, validate, validate and pressure, pressure, and pressure our kids. To some extent, parents have no choice: public school dictates the curriculum and as the pressure increases for kids to do more at young ages, the pressure increases on parents to do more for our kids to help them succeed.

It's a trap and we're damned if we do, damned if we don't. It's like we're all desperately shooting for the same gold star yet so many of us refuse to find an alternate path if that gold star is a bit out-of-reach.

I was fortunate as a kid to be good at school. I was dolid with tests, papers, projects, and presentations. I was built to succeed at the game called education — but so many of our kids aren't.

Is a child who's a hands-on learner that must touch, build, and actively do things a worse learner than one who's great with the more traditional style of learning: sit and listen? 

Is a child who struggles with geometry, yet writes and reads at high levels, a dimmer star? 

Is a child who struggles throughout the school year an ultimate failure?

No, not if we as parents don't see the beauty in all the child is (and all the child does) to get through that school year and to cope with the treachery of that geometry class.

And while I'm at it, let's talk about the word "gifted." My inbox is flooded from mommy sites sending me rubrics and articles on quantifying if my child is indeed gifted or not. Sure, gifted children have their own pros and cons but why are we so desperate to label our kids anyway? Is it simply easier for us as parents?

When my daughter saw a therapist to get through my husband and I's divorce, she noted that she felt my daughter was gifted. But what does this really mean long-term? It meant my she picked up on a lot of the subtle nuisances and tension between my ex and I — a social maturity beyond her years.

But all that was really important to me was that I understood what my child needed help with and what strengths she had to make it through this difficult situation.

Sometimes I find myself saying, "Oh, I wish my kid wouldn't do that," or, "I wonder why she won't play with a ball," and those wishes are quickly forgotten when I remember who she is as a kid and person and that it isn't my job to make her how I need her to be, but that I need to help her be the best she can be, as she is.

Not all of our children will go on to be successful in the textbook way many people view success: high-paying careers.

Not all of our children will marry well.

Not all of our children will blaze through society making changes that people of many generations will speak about.

That's just the way it is.

There's always someone prettier, smarter, faster, more talented, and richer than you. Our jobs as parents is to value our kids for who they are intrinsically and help them before they become adults to utilize their skills and deal with their weaknesses as best we can.

And if your kid does happen to be a genius, can you do us a favor? Tell him or her to find the cure for world peace and calorie-free chocolate that still tastes as good as the fattening kind.


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