45-Year Study Reveals Good Parenting Is the Key to Raising a ‘Genius’
Science| | By Matthew D'Onofrio
After a 45-year investigation of 5,000 talented young individuals with over 400 papers and several books produced, a study shows that raising a child to become a “genius” basically just requires being a good parent.
The “Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth” (SMPY), founded in 1971 by Julian Stanley of Johns Hopkins University, tracked subjects – who scored between the top three percent and top 0.01 percent compared to others in their SAT scores – throughout their lives and aimed to find out how to identify and develop talent in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM, as the education sector calls it). The thousands of subjects were assessed from their youth to their middle age in their interests, preferences, occupation, life accomplishments and spatial ability, which is the capacity to understand and remember spatial relationships between objects.
Stanley wanted to discover children with high potential for excellence in STEM as well as how to boost their chances to reach that potential. However, according to Camilla Benbow, Dean of Education and Human Development at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN and co-director of the study, Stanley wasn’t just studying bright children, he wanted to “nurture their intellect and enhance the odds that they would change the world.”
And now that the SMPY recruits are at the peak of their successful careers, results show that their unique cognitive abilities were discovered and supported in their early years by allowing them to be challenged through opportunities like skipping grades. Although practice and environmental factors are said to have the most effect on achievement, SMPY emphasizes nurturing precocious children and on the other hand not undermining “ungifted” children through labeling and constant, often daunting, assessments such as standardized testing.
Additionally, if a child does not excel in STEM, there is still hope in other areas such as spatial ability, which is an “untapped source of human potential,” according to Benbow’s husband David Lubiniski, a psychologist and co-director of the study. Students with average mathematical and verbal abilities yet exceptional spatial abilities tend to go on to become engineers, architects and even surgeons.
“And yet, no admissions directors I know of are looking at this, and it’s generally overlooked in school-based assessments,” said Lubiniski.
It’s not about forcing a child to be the next Einstein, it’s about encouraging achievement and happiness. Benbow and her colleagues suggest exposing children to diverse experiences, providing opportunities for children when they show strong interest or talent in something, supporting a child’s intellectual and emotional needs, praising a child’s effort over ability, allowing and encouraging children to take intellectual risks and learning from their failures, not labeling them (“gifted,” “ungifted”), working with a child’s teachers to meet their needs, and testing a child’s abilities.
Simply put, good parenting is the best way to ensure a child’s future is bright, even if they are not considered “bright.”