In one of the most extensive studies on the subject, British psychologist Joan Freeman found that labeling children "gifted" may harm some kids' long-term growth. The study classified 210 children into three groups (those labeled "gifted", those with "identical ability" but without a label, and "average" children) and observed their maturation from 1974 through the present day. By her measures, Freeman found that only three percent of the "gifteds" fulfilled "early promise" and became conventionally successful. Young prodigies cited in this group include young math geniuses who wound up working at McDonalds and exceptional scholars who ended up dropping out of prestigious universities.
Freeman, who discussed her findings in a new interview for the opinion section of New Scientist, suggested that parents who insisted on calling their average-IQ kids "gifted" weren't doing them any favors:
The healthy reaction is to be nurturing, while the unhealthy is to do with parental need for their child to be bright. If you label a child as gifted when they are not, as some parents do, the child has the most terrible burden. If you are incapable of fulfilling your parents' dreams, you must fail over and over - you can't win. There was one boy whose mother was convinced he was gifted. She went on and on about how school didn't appreciate him. When I tested him, he had an average IQ. As a child he was very depressed, but he escaped and now runs a bar in Spain and is having a great time.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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