Child Genius Channel 4 review – series 2013

June 12, 2013

in Child prodigies, Early Learning, IQ

The Child Genius documentary on Channel 4 is back! The new series 2013 aired yesterday Tuesday June 11th at 9pm local time. To my disappointment, there was absolutely no follow-up of what happened to the “geniuses” profiled in previous series and instead new “child prodigies” are presented. Doesn’t it make you suspicious that they keep showing primary aged “prodigies” and then quickly sweep them under the carpet when they turn out to be relatively normal albeit above average teenagers and adults? Whatever happened to “future world chess champion” Peter Williams? We couldn’t find out, because yesterday the programme focused on a new “chess prodigy”, 8 year old Joshua who is the world’s number 5 under 10 in chess, apparently.

As I wrote in my post “The Gifted Myth“, it’s easier to look like a prodigy in early life because not many kids spend 50 hours per week practicing chess or the violin, whereas later many competitors do show up. Pick an unusual hobby and dedicate a large amount of time to it and voila, there’s your Guinness book record. After all, how many children in India (or in the world, for that matter) take part in Scrabble competitions? This documentary again confirmed my suspicions – a lot of pushy middle class parents, not many “prodigies”. To be fair, many of the children are obviously bright and many parents may well just be responding to their children’s natural curiosity in a particularly attentive manner.

In fact, many of the parents openly discuss their methods of hard work, from Joshua’s 50 hour per week 10,000 hour chess regime to Hong Kong born boy Longyin raised by his ex-cop dad who describes his rigorous agenda (home work, house work, martial arts, Chinese lesson with mom, table tennis (while solving mental maths problems and geography quizzes) and so forth. It is the journalists and editors of the programme who try to spin it into a child prodigy story.

Of course, Mensa has a vested interest in presenting giftedness as a static characteristic inexplicably endowed upon 2% of the population. How they were convinced to parade 8 year olds to do IQ test questions in front of a panel, TV cameras and their helicopter parents’ eyes still surprises me. Perhaps they need a bit of marketing, but it probably backfired – many viewers of the programme felt sorry for the children if anything, particularly those who couldn’t handle the pressure well.

Then you also have more classical cases such as Hugo who plays his role as the slightly eccentric gifted boy baffling his parents very well.
The Child Genius documentary does serve well as a case study on how not to conduct the Genius Experiment however! True genius does not come from treating any sort of pursuit as a competitive job and I see a real risk of killing passion in many of the children. What particularly shocked me is how editors of the programme explicitly pick eccentric behaviour of the children to showcase their weirdness, which you can already imagine will cause them endless trouble in the school yard. Scrabble champion Shrinidhi shares her passion for sniffing old books, which in itself is perfectly harmless and understandable for a book worm, but I can already imagine the jokes some mean classmates might come up with. The show is designed for maximum entertainment with no thought about the impact on the children’s subsequent lives. I wish them and their families all the best and hope they won’t regret their decision to enter the programme.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Peter Williams March 5, 2015 at 3:46 PM

Here the link to Peter International chess rating.

Peter does not play chess any more due to the comments made in the last film He is in his last year of his A levels and will then go on to study for a maths degree at a leading universty hope that helps.


Genius Experiment June 14, 2015 at 1:48 PM

thanks so much for the comment and the update. I am not aware of the comments made in the last film, do you mean what’s said in the actual film or the reaction to it? I wish him all the best in his maths degree. How time flies!


Peter Williams September 8, 2016 at 3:36 PM

Peter now at Warwick Universty studying for a Maths degree in his 2nd year he play the odd game of chess for warwick the comments made in the last film by Mr Andrew Martin chess master tried to imply that Peter was Vulnerable and that home education was wrong he made these comments before talking to us his parents he knew us to we and Peter where very unhappy with his role in the film and when challenged over his remarks he said he made lots of wonderfull remarks about Peter but it was not shown we could find no proof of this i do not belive him and told him so on a chess forum the film it self tried to show that Peter had no friends which was rubbish! i am still very unhappy about it and will never re join the english chess federation i only have to start thinking about it and it makes me so mad just think if stuff like that was said about your children he got 2 daughters i know for a fact he not like it if you said his daughters where vulnerable Peter did not just play chess whe nat home he did all sorts of stuff painting drawing reading wrting playing you name it we did it but no one was to kee to film that the best film was the 2nd one lucy was the director and she is a friends of ours

Alexandra June 29, 2013 at 2:38 PM

I agree that this is totally an entertainment show, with lots of repeating the funny quirks of the kids (to ensure maximum teasing?) and was not at all what I was hoping for.

Perhaps because of the EL mindset, I am not overly surprised at the abilities of the children. As you say, almost all of it can be achieved with a lot of hard work. The attitudes of the children (I’m cleverer than everyone etc.) annoyed me – I would never accept my son having that kind of attitude! And the attitude of the parents – most of them were far too interested in their child being the best to care about whether it was good for the child to be doing so!

I think the best thing I heard a parent say was Longyin’s dad telling him that he should not feel bad when making mistakes, but should instead use it as a learning opportunity. He was about the only one working to keep his child’s head from growing too big!
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Genius Experiment July 2, 2013 at 4:45 PM

thanks for your comment, Alexandra! totally agree with your impressions! especially about annoying attitudes in terms of “i’m smarter than everyone”, and I don’t care so much if they’re arrogant but more that these attitudes are going to undermine these children and their abilities throughout life.


Julie January 28, 2015 at 7:34 PM

Absolutely. As a young child who was constantly told how “musically talented” I am, I can honestly say, I remember having a big fear of making mistakes and being discovered as a fraud. It turned the thing I innately loved into a mine field that could undermine my identity and my entire future. And as you mentioned, early precociousness didnt really translate into a lifelong edge. By high school, I was ignored by my teachers and by college generally worked much harder than my friends to claw my way somewhere into the middle of the upper echelon. The other problem is that the skills that dazzle when your 6 (like perfect pitch and being able to play anything by ear) are of somewhat limited value in the professional world. By adulthood, what mattered was great reading skills, flowing technique, good ensemble playing, being an extrovert and having a mind for business. Ironically, many of the adults these children are dealing with are professional educators and have limited insight into whats actually valuable in the business world.

Genius Experiment January 28, 2015 at 10:13 PM

Hi Julie, thanks for your comment, and thanks a lot for sharing your experience. It’s very interesting to hear more specifically what you think matters long term in the music world. I can see you understand quite well what happened in your life, I always felt this was the first step required to get back on track and become successful (if that’s what you want). I had to understand finally at some point (years after others) that hard workers can overtake those initially “talented” and once I understood and worked hard, I became successful again (of course, it depends on the field – in sports or music, it might well be that you will never catch up once you’re out of the game).


Genius Experiment November 8, 2016 at 11:01 PM

Thanks a lot for the update and you comment. It is so true, journalists just tell the story they want to tell regardless of the facts. And without thinking about the impact it can have on the children’s lives. Unfortunately, the show has gone from bad to worse in that respect and I think the best for all parents would be to stay away. They have no interest in painting an accurate picture. Wishing Peter all the best for the future!


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