In this day and age, there seems to be competition among parents for absolutely anything and everything under the sun. When it comes to raising smart kids, even governments get involved, recognizing the importance and potential impact of generations of well-educated, intelligent human beings.

If this is something that matters to you, listen up.

The Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth (SMPY) has tracked the careers and accomplishments of 5,000 individuals since the time they were children or teens and continued for 45 years. That’s a long time in terms of a scientific study.


Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Along the way, they’ve produced hundreds of academic papers, and it appears they have something to tell us about spotting talent that is ripe for development into the all-important STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields. In fact, many of those who have participated in SMPY have gone on to become impressive scientists in their own right.

So, what is the secret to raising genius kids who will one day be able to support you and your old person gambling and/or drinking habits?

Lotus Health Project

Photo Credit: Lotus Health Project

Well, it seems that a big part of it may be genetics – a lot of data suggests that inherent intelligence trumps repeated practice as far as becoming an expert in a particular field. Early cognitive ability has an even greater effect on later achievement than factors like your family’s socioeconomic status.

The study has been criticized for putting too much emphasis on things like test scores, and for a way of selecting participants that ignores youth with slightly less (but still present) potential. Standardized testing was a common method used by the study to find the most intellectually promising kids – and alumni include Mark Zuckerberg, Lady Gaga, Google co-founder Sergey Brin, and mathematicians Terence Tao and Lenhard Ng. Each scored in the top 1% of their university entrance exams.

Common Dreams

Photo Credit: Jose F. Moreno/AP

While other studies don’t entirely disagree that nurturing high potential from a young age will produce an intelligent adult, many do conclude that success is determined by both environment and genetics. Being particularly encouraging and supportive while a child is in preschool can boost brain growth. Some believe that labelling kids as smart from a young age can have a detrimental effect, undermining their willingness to learn.

Another study suggests that one way to boost neural connectivity and mental flexibility is to give kids complex tasks that get more difficult as they solve them – much like many computer or video games are structured. Learning how to play a musical instrument and regularly reading books is also neurologically beneficial (and not just for children!).

The bottom line? Keep your fingers crossed that your kid is born with massive brain power, but even if he/she isn’t, there’s tons of information out there on how you can push them to improve and reach their personal best potential.

Or, you know, you could love them just the way they are.

h/t: IFL Science