Aged Beyond Their Years: A Look at Child Prodigies

by Ellie Halfacre


While most 9th graders finish their freshman year at the age of 15, Kim Ung-Yong was finishing his college career.   Possibly the smartest man alive today, he has an IQ around 210 and was invited to America from Korea by NASA to further his studies.  A polyglot by 5, he isn’t your average child.  People who excel in fields of music, art, acting, mathematics, literature, and other subject are known as prodigies, and they have captivated those of all ages throughout time.  From Mozart to Picasso, Jodie Foster to Drew Barrymore, kids with exponential gifts boggle the minds of those with normal IQs and talents.  Exceptionally talented children do bring to question several issues concerning parenting, intelligence, accelerated learning, and talent.  When someone is put into a competitive adult world at a young age, are they losing their innocence and childhood, or gaining insight and know-how that will help them achieve great things as fully developed, independent individuals?

Doogie Howser, M.D.

The childhood of a young prodigy is often mixed with experiences most adults don’t live through, including knowledge and terrible pressure from parents.  China’s elite pianist Lang Lang started piano at the age of 3, and has since become an international superstar.  Despite this success, he admits that he was very pressured by his father throughout his childhood, but he still remains close to him today.

Sufiah Yusof, on the other hand, thinks of her childhood as a “living hell.”  Growing up in a home where television and pop music were banned, she says she suffered “15 years of physical and emotional abuse.”  Sufiah was accepted into Oxford, one of the best universities in the world, at the age of 13 to study mathematics.

Her story isn’t one of great acclaim or achievement, but one of a “prodigy gone wrong.”  She ran away from her school and was found working at an Internet café, only to return to her college.  In 2008, a reporter for News of the World unearthed her whereabouts – she was working as a prostitute 130 euros an hour.

Other prodigies follow down a similar path, especially those in the entertainment business.  Tatum O’Neal, the youngest Oscar winner ever for her performance in Paper Moon, has a history of drug abuse and now only occasionally acts.  She was arrested for trying to purchase cocaine in 2008.  Others do bounce back, like Drew Barrymore, whose role in E.T. at the age of 7 introduced her to a world of fame.  This world also introduced her to alcohol, pot, and cocaine, all before her 14th birthday.  Now she is, well, Drew Barrymore.

While many child prodigies don’t move past their youthful achievements, many do reach their full potential.  Gregory Smith, who graduated with a master’s degree at 16, has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize four times.  Not only does he have an IQ “off the bell curve,” but he founded International Youth Advocates and has traveled the world as a peace and children’s rights activist.

Nobel prize winner Marie Curie was also a child prodigy, and she devised the science of radioactivity with her husband.  Pablo Picasso, the most famous name in modern art, was also an exponentially talented boy.  Other famous names from classical music to the present day all started at a very young age, and it was taken them well into their adulthood to master their craft.

A large question arises when looking at all these examples: is university and accelerated learning the right action to take for an unbelievably talented child?  College is a scary idea for most 18-year-olds; imagine that pressure at seven!  When children learn at a faster rate then their peers, are they missing life experiences that will further their self-development and social skills?  If the child is solely intelligent, extending this talent may subtract other things that get a job, like work ethic and the ability to work well with others.  Then again, many children have sped up their education and have emerged as great thinkers and influential artists.  They have also ended up as completely average adults.  Either way, children born talented will gain both media attention and college acceptance letters.


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