In second grade my daughter’s teacher approached us asking if they could test Cameron for the Gifted program. As a first time mother, I was honored and felt a huge sense of pride that my daughter stood out as “smart”. My husband took her to the evaluation and when the test was over, the Psychologist pulled my husband aside and told him that Cameron was the highest scoring child he had ever tested. She was a genius.
My husband immediately called me and told me the wonderful news. We had a genius!
We quickly got on the phone and told everyone in the family. Everyone was thrilled. Having a genius could mean we might be related to someone who cured cancer, sent the first person to Mars, invented a new source of energy, or won a Nobel Prize.
Cameron was placed into the Gifted Program, where two days a week, the kids would leave their regular class and join the “smarties” of the school. They had a special classroom, were given special assignments, had special books to read, and even had a special teacher. This class was for the “smarties” because they were special.
Cameron was glad that she was one of the few in the school that was able to wear the SMART label. Everyone knew the gifted kids. Being gifted was a society that not everyone could join and there was a large sense of pride knowing that my child had one of the highest IQ’s of the county.
Cameron always knew she was smart, very smart. We thought that constantly reminding her of her IQ would help her work hard and be motivated to achieve success. I remember saying:
-Cameron, do you know that you had the highest score in the county so far?
-You can do anything with the mind you have, you can take over the world.
-Do you know that you are smarter than most of the people you will meet?
I said these comments because I wanted her to know that she was given a brain that was capable of amazing accomplishments. She could understand things that others wouldn’t, her thoughts and ideas could be deeper, and her brain was able to understand complicated subjects. She was given a gift and she should use it.
After years of telling her how smart she was, she ended up defiantly knowing. She had no doubt she was smart. She knew she was smart, so she didn’t think she needed to work hard at school. If she had the highest IQ in the county, then everyone else needed to work hard to catch up to her. If she was smarter than most of the people she met, then they were the ones that needed to study. She didn’t need to work hard, study, do homework, or pay attention: she was already smart.
Middle school was a struggle and her grades were average. I would tell her:
-You are a genius, you are not average, you are above average.
-You are not woking up to the potential of your mind, are you going to let your IQ go to waste?
These comments didn’t help. She was more frustrated because she wondered how could someone like her, with a genius IQ do mediocre work? She ended up coming to the conclusion that It couldn’t be her fault; it must be the teacher’s fault. They had a lower IQ’s than hers. They must be the ones who don’t know how to teach, they were teaching her wrong, or grading her work incorrectly.
High-school started out even worse than middle school. Nothing was Cameron’s fault. It couldn’t be her fault, because she was a genius. She was probably smarter than anyone in the school, so most everything was blamed on them. If a teacher reprimanded her for turning in sub-par work, she thought the teacher hated her. If a teacher marker her low on a test, she swore it was because the test was flawed. If she didn’t turn in projects, she made it known that the teacher didn’t explain to the class when the project was due.
Cameron knew it couldn’t be her, she was a genius.
I was frustrated and I could see her college and career choices slowly going down the drain. My daughter who once had the opportunity to take over the world, was not even taking the first step out the door. She had the mind, but didn’t put in the work.
She didn’t put in the work, because to her, she didn’t need to work when she was already smart. She didn’t need to work and so she had never learned HOW to work. She had made it though elementary school because it was easy, she made it through middle school because she put in just enough work to get by. When high-school became difficult, she started to suffer.
Cameron and I were both to blame. Cameron was to blame because she felt that since she was born with the gifted brain, she was given an easy pass. She thought that way because I unintentionally taught her that way. Throughout her life my statements about her being a genius had focused on what she was (outcome) and not how hard she worked at it (process). I focused on her award of an IQ, rather than focus on how hard she worked to become educated.
Cameron relied on the information her brain started out where others were trying to end up. What she didn’t know was that the others were passing her by and becoming more educated, getting better grades, being accepted to college, making a difference in their communities, changing the world, and learning more than she did. They weren’t born a genius so they had to work hard to become a genius. They learned to study; because they had to. They learned how to work hard at school; because they had to. They learned how to take tests; because they had to. And soon, Cameron changed her thoughts; because she has to.
Cameron began to realize that if she wanted to make it into college and have a nice career that paid well, she would have to forget that she was smart and start to become smart. She would have to work hard at learning and study, take meaningful notes, complete homework and turn it in, and make sure she was understanding lessons correctly. She would have to become accountable for her own actions and own up to her mistakes, because even if she had a higher IQ, the teachers did know more.
Last week we were in a meeting with Cameron’s guidance counselor talking about college. I asked if it would help if we added the information about her gifted classes, IQ, or even if she should join Mensa. The counselor smiled and said, “No one cares what about her IQ, if she hasn’t done anything about it. If has a high IQ and used it to become an A student, her grades will reflect it the effort. That is what colleges look for.”
After the meeting with the counselor, I understood why learning her IQ wasn’t good for her. Why do we need to even know this information? Learning that she was smart almost made her stupid. It made her lazy, entitled, and dismissive. It didn’t make her work harder, it didn’t make her think outside the box, it didn’t make her challenge herself, and it didn’t push her to become any better than she was in second grade. Once she knew she was smart, she stopped trying to be smart.
Thankfully she learned how to become smart before it was too late. If we had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t have her tested. I would rather have a child that works hard, listens well, and puts in more effort than is required; then a child that has a title and never worked a day in her life to get there. We are throwing away the IQ number and now we are focusing on the effort. We talk about putting in the work.
We both learned a very difficult lesson, yet we are both much “smarter” in the end.
Wendy Bruce Martin was a member of the 1992 Olympic team and 5x national team member. She has been involved in gymnastics for 36 years and coaching for 22. She received a degree in psychology and is a certified mental toughness coach. Wendy owns the Mental Toughness Company, GET PSYCHED! and is co-owner of Gold Medal Moms. You can visit Wendy at www.Psyched4sports.com http://www.WendyBruceMartin.com or www.GoldMedalMoms.com email at firstname.lastname@example.org.