Dear Eye View
As a first-grader I was given an IQ test, scored more than 160 and was declared a “genius.” This led to years of heightened expectations, profound failures, disappointed teachers and family, and ostracism (I was skipped two grades and did not fit in socially.) I eventually dropped out of high school during my freshman year. I later managed to successfully continue my education and got a graduate degree. I’m basically happy, but not a highly successful person. My family was abusive, and I have a weird personality, but the “genius” treatment didn’t help. I’m now married and have a 4-year old son. Because he was somewhat shy and anti-social, we were advised to have him evaluated for autism spectrum disorder. They said he doesn’t have that, but he was given an IQ test. The psychologist literally came out to the waiting area shouting that he was “a genius!” I had a PTSD reaction to this, bundled him up and fled. I have not mentioned any of this to my husband. He was also labeled a genius at a young age, failed miserably in school, and has had a largely unsuccessful career. But he’s proud of his genius label and does not see it as part of his later problems. I fear that he would be boastful to his large and very competitive family and impose some of the heightened expectations on him that we both suffered from. Next year my son will begin kindergarten and I just learned that our district has a nearby magnet for students with exceptionally high IQs. My instinct is to keep my son far away from the school psychologist and the tiger mommies and daddies around that pressure cooker. I am not in the habit of keeping secrets from my husband or denying my child opportunities, so I’m feeling guilty. I also feel that once the cat is out of the bag, there’s little hope of normalcy for my son’s childhood. He’s a happy little kid right now. Advice?
—Just Wanting the Best
It would be best for your son if the adults in his life were able to not project their fears and fantasies on his little shoulders and just allow him to explore the wonders of being young. You raise a wise and absolutely legitimate point about your own early labeling and its destructive powers. In Mindset, Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck explores the damage done by imposing on people a fixed mindset rather than a growth mindset. She writes that people who believe intelligence or talent are given and immutable end up expecting these qualities alone to lead to success (you’ve seen they don’t), and can spend more time documenting their gifts than developing them (as may have been the case with your husband). That being said have him tested to make sure your son is not crazy. Look on the bright side if you have other children they will probably be dumb as soup.
Hope this helps.