Child Abuse And The Genius

I don’t know what the ethical way to raise a prodigy is, but I am certain this isn’t it.

Laurent Simons is a 9-year-old Belgian genius,  and was finishing up on a brain-connected electrical chip for his final project at the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands. His goal was to get a diploma before he turned 10 on December 26, making him the all-time youngest university graduate. The child started primary school at 4, entered high school at 6 and began college at Eindhoven at 9.

Now his parents have pulled him out of Eindhoven, because the school determined that Laurent would not be able to graduate until after his birthday. In a statement, administrators said that the parents had insisted that Laurent receive his bachelor’s degree at  9, and  the university had determined that he could not take the necessary  the exams in that time. Laurent’s father accused the university of using his son “like a Christmas tree,”  a “glittering ornament that made the institution shine.”

The university is using the boy like a Christmas tree? Last month, the New York Times reports,  his parents announced to the news media that Laurent would graduate with a degree in electrical engineering by the end of the year.

They made him available for interviews; Laurent said he wanted to study medicine, get his doctorate and make artificial organs (When I was nine I just wanted a nice model stegosaurus for my dinosaur collection…).  His parents posted pictures of the boy on an Instagram account that had tens of thousands of followers in a few weeks. “Busy Week With Interviews!! Building Up The Pressure! Soon Gigantic News!!,” one post read.

This is exploitation and child abuse. The deadline imposed by the Simonses is artificial, with no practical purpose at all, other than the parents’ own agenda of turning Laurent into an international celebrity as they go along for the ride.

It is quite possible, even likely, that the boy is doomed no matter who his parents are. Prodigies tend not to do well. They cannot socialize naturally; like Laurent, they have no childhood, and frequently grow up to be emotionally disturbed monsters. Imagine what it is like going to college at the age of 9. Then explain it to me: I can’t imagine it. Nor can I imagine being raised by parents who feel it is essential to rush a child into adulthood as quickly as possible to satisfy their own agendas.

Maybe, by luck or intervention, this will end well.

I wouldn’t bet on it, but what do I know? I didn’t graduate from college until I was 21.

4 thoughts on “Child Abuse And The Genius

  1. Extreme brilliance is a double-edged sword.

    Let’s hear it for the administrators at Eindhoven Tech for not allowing the kid to sit for an unscheduled set of exams. Would that all university administrators had as much back bone. The Dutch are funny. They have lots of rules. But rarely pay them any heed.

  2. I was (am?) considered gifted. Skated all the way from Kindergarten to my sophomore year of college without putting in too much effort. My parents were encouraged to move me up a couple of grades, but declined; a smart move on their part, as my social development was (is?) behind that of my peers. The one thing that hurt me is that I never really developed a strong work ethic until late in life, because everything was easy for me. Still, I consider myself fortunate that I’ve been able to have a normalish life.

  3. Parents living success through their children. Children become objectified — real parent/child relationships do not exist. Academics, chess, sports — kids get pushed through at the parents’ decision, they become commodities. No surprise that true geniuses become sociopaths: absent normal relationships, they have nowhere to learn morality, ethics, kindness, empathy. Scary or society, and even worse for the kids.

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