Raise Your Hand If You Like To be Told That You’re Stupid

   A study published in 1993 questioned why some gifted children nurture their talent all through their teenage years while many let it whither.  The insights hold meaning for all.   Researchers had teachers in a highly regarded suburban high school identify freshman students with high degrees of natural talent in one or more of the following areas: math, science, music, athletics, and art. 

   Those selected who then agreed to participate were followed throughout their high school career by means of the “beeper method”.  They’d carry a beeper and whenever it was activated by a researcher would complete a questionnaire asking about time, place, activity, mood, feelings, environment, level of satisfaction, etc.  After graduation, their records of achievement were evaluated and conclusions drawn.

   Several factors were found to be associated with the successful development of talent. First, children must simply be recognized as talented.  Talented kids can concentrate, but also are open to new experiences.  They are less inclined to just socialize than pursue some sort of meaningful activity; they spent more time alone.  They are sexually conservative. 

  Their families provide both support and challenge.  They like best teachers who were “supportive and modeled enjoyment”.  They found both expressive and instrumental rewards in their activities; that is they enjoyed creative opportunities while tracking future goals.  Talent will be developed if it provides “optimal experiences – flow” ie if it occasions the sorts of experiences in which one loses track of time.

  Finally, the researchers emphasized their observation that “psychological complexity (is) the organizing principle”.  The opposing forces at work within and among the factors listed above create the cohering whole.

  Read the book. Even though written fifteen years ago, it’s still enlightening.  Brains haven’t changed.  Talented Teenagers, Csikszentmihalyi, Rathunde, Whalen, Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Postscript: To the surprise of the researchers, the “Talented Teens” did spend a modest amount of time in front of the tube.  Decompression, relaxation perhaps.  Clearly, they  used it instead of it using them – a practice which alone would yield quite a bit more than a head start.

PPS.  Read other books by Mr. Csikszentmihalyi.  His studies of optimal experiences are absolutely fascinating.

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