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Our Little Genius: Not Such a Bright Idea!

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I am so not a fan of this new reality show for kids.

our little genius

Dr. Michelle Golland: "Our Little Genius" is a new game show coming to the small screen in early 2010 from Mark Burnett. This is a quiz show for super-smart children between the ages of 6-12 -- and is focused on a child's particular area of "genius." The kids move up the money ladder as they get correct answers. The catch is that the parents are the ones that make the decision to keep going or not.

In essence, they either believe in their child's ability or simply don't. We are not talking small amounts of money either. The payoff is upwards of $200,000 -- an amount that could change an entire family's future. The pressure to perform for a large payoff will be a huge responsibility for any of these children. In essence, these parents are pimping out their children in hopes of a huge monetary return with little or no safeguards for the welfare of the children. This is not a judged show on talent (an inherently subjective experience). It is a quiz show with parents in control of the destiny while kids are expected to be little computers spitting out information. This is a recipe for a self-esteem nosedive.

When it comes to reality TV and game shows, there are no guidelines for the welfare of the children. The laws are not the same as for child actors, who have numerous laws in place to protect them emotionally, physically, and psychologically. Paul Petersen, who was a child star himself on "The Donna Reed Show," has been an advocate for children in television for years. His organization, A Minor Consideration, has been fighting exploitation of children, including Jon and Kate's children and many other reality TV kids.

Children, being minors, can't consent (by definition) because they are unaware of the real consequences of their choices. This is why parents -- as responsible adults -- are supposed to be in charge of decisions for their children. What we find with reality TV parents is that they are often not responsible and have other priorities, including their own fame and fortune -- such as with Jon and Kate, Octomom, the Heenes, the parents on "Little Miss Perfect" ... the list goes on and on!

The problem is, when there is money involved and no laws regulating the situation, it leaves those who have another agenda other than the health, safety, and welfare of the children in charge. The parents, the producers, and the networks are the ones in control. The top priority of those people (including parents) is most often making money -- which is usually at the expense of the kid's well-being.

Why I don't believe "Our Little Genius" is so genius is that it pits the children against their parents at a very intense emotional moment, with high stakes and real dollars. What will the emotional impact be on the children who lose out early and their parents and family were in great need of the money? What will it mean for the emotional experience of a child who doesn't succeed and feels humiliated in front of an entire nation? How resentful will a child become when his parents tell him to stop because they don't believe he can answer the next question?

We will be waiting for that fateful moment when the child gets the answer incorrect, and we will see how the parents and the child respond to defeat. Or we will watch the anger, resentment, and tears wash across the child's face, as he is able to answer the question that his parents didn't believe he could -- just another painful and sad moment brought to us by the unabashed exploitation of kids.



next: Autism Clusters around the Educated
21 comments so far | Post a comment now
LindsayDianne November 19, 2009, 8:42 AM

I agree with you completely.
If only exploitation was new.

m November 19, 2009, 12:01 PM

How sad, I never would have thought of it like that, but it is so true.

Pharma982 December 4, 2009, 12:36 PM

Very nice site!

Who dey December 14, 2009, 6:16 PM

Um this ain’t cool my little brother had no tears problems or anything yall don’t know what u talkin bout this has helped him in so many aspects even when we cashed out we in the end had a smiling 6 yr old boy so idk what u talkin bout

Interesting Take December 18, 2009, 9:25 AM

I find your take on this interesting. Dr. Golland, have you worked with the profoundly gifted population in any significant way? Most of these children are likely to be 3 or more SD’s from the normal population of children thier age. This fact in no way implies that they are in any way “little adults” and capable of making this descision on their own, but I must emphasize that one would be hard-pressed to “make” a child of such capabilities do this show. Our child belongs to an organization of profoundly gifted youth in the United States in just this age range. I can tell you here and now that there is no way we or anyone else could force her to do this. These children are , of course, not immune to Mom and Dad thretening them with severe punishment if they do not comply, but I have never been witness to suh a family in our organization, which represents a significant number of families of Profound children.
Frankly, your article smacks of the ever-present under-estimation and “over-parenting” (helicoptering) which has become a fixture in modern US culture. These children want to be on this show, make no mistake about it. If they lose? What a great lesson to be learned! Let’s not over-protect children who can very clearly think for themselves.
You might want to visit the Davidson Institute for Talent Development website, the Gifted Development Center website and the Hoagies gifted website for more information on the differences in parenting PG children.
Please don’t be embarassed or defensive about this, as there are many CP’s who really don’t have a grasp of this. There simply aren’t enough of these kids around to make it easy to be good at recognizing and nurtuting their special talents. Good luck in the future.
Parent of PG Girl (who happens to be friends with one of the potential contestants)

kat December 22, 2009, 12:32 AM

This show seems particularly dangerous in the light of the already high standards gifted children and their parents hold gifted children to… I should know, as I was identified as gifted [although not profoundly so] when I was young and was accelerated a total of three grades.

Though of course “Interesting Take” has a valid point, that profoundly gifted children are often advanced in social reasoning and are likely to be able to cogently express their desires to be on the show, there are two points that remain.

One, is that despite the fact that “Interesting Take” may have no interest in exploiting his/her child for monetary or other gain, there are certainly parents who will do this, and being smart does not make one immune to parental pressure. Children are under the domain of their parents legally, socially,and hierarchically and thus will be reluctant to resist parental authority if they know it has real consequences [I’m guessing that gifted children would be even more perceptive of these consequences than others]. Furthermore I assume that the parents most likely to exploit their children are not going to be the same parents who have an interest in nurturing their child’s talents, and therefore IT would not see these parents actively involved in gifted advocacy organizations.

The second, and more important point, is that gifted children often stake their identities on their intelligence and learn to judge the worth of others based on how smart they are. Parents of gifted children often have a vested interest in the identity of their child as gifted, and I would imagine this would be especially so in the cases of profoundly gifted children. Putting gifted children in a situation where their intelligence determines the fate of their family is probably the worst possible thing one could do for a young child. Though the winning children may be ok, the losing children and their families face a severe blow to their self-understanding, and I’m sure the losing kids go home convinced that if only they were *smarter* or *weren’t so stupid* they would have been able to pay off the mortgage.

The problem is that though these kids are gifted and in many respects have the abilities of adults, they are still children in many other respects and are not able to fully consent to appearing on this TV show and subjecting themselves to this sort of process. What’s worse is that the child is not in control of his/her own questioning— it is the parents who control the child’s progress through the game, and thus, the child cannot stop the game if he/she has had enough or feels like his/her own potential intellectual humiliation is not worth the extra few thousand dollars. If there’s something gifted children insist on— and something IT is right about— it is self-determination, and I see no guarantee that these children have the opportunity to exercise it.

kat December 22, 2009, 12:37 AM

This show seems particularly dangerous in the light of the already high standards gifted children and their parents hold gifted children to… I should know, as I was identified as gifted [although not profoundly so] when I was young and was accelerated a total of three grades.

Though of course “Interesting Take” has a valid point, that profoundly gifted children are often advanced in social reasoning and are likely to be able to cogently express their desires to be on the show, there are two points that remain.

One, is that despite the fact that “Interesting Take” may have no interest in exploiting his/her child for monetary or other gain, there are certainly parents who will do this, and being smart does not make one immune to parental pressure. Children are under the domain of their parents legally, socially,and hierarchically and thus will be reluctant to resist parental authority if they know it has real consequences [I’m guessing that gifted children would be even more perceptive of these consequences than others]. Furthermore I assume that the parents most likely to exploit their children are not going to be the same parents who have an interest in nurturing their child’s talents, and therefore IT would not see these parents actively involved in gifted advocacy organizations.

The second, and more important point, is that gifted children often stake their identities on their intelligence and learn to judge the worth of others based on how smart they are. Parents of gifted children often have a vested interest in the identity of their child as gifted, and I would imagine this would be especially so in the cases of profoundly gifted children. Putting gifted children in a situation where their intelligence determines the fate of their family is probably the worst possible thing one could do for a young child. Though the winning children may be ok, the losing children and their families face a severe blow to their self-understanding, and I’m sure the losing kids go home convinced that if only they were *smarter* or *weren’t so stupid* they would have been able to pay off the mortgage.

The problem is that though these kids are gifted and in many respects have the abilities of adults, they are still children in many other respects and are not able to fully consent to appearing on this TV show and subjecting themselves to this sort of process. What’s worse is that the child is not in control of his/her own questioning— it is the parents who control the child’s progress through the game, and thus, the child cannot stop the game if he/she has had enough or feels like his/her own potential intellectual humiliation is not worth the extra few thousand dollars. If there’s something gifted children insist on— and something IT is right about— it is self-determination, and I see no guarantee that these children have the opportunity to exercise it.

kat December 22, 2009, 12:39 AM

[sorry, I wrote a lot! the formatting came out a bit screwy, as well]

The problem is that though these kids are gifted and in many respects have the abilities of adults, they are still children in many other respects and are not able to fully consent to appearing on this TV show and subjecting themselves to this sort of process. What’s worse is that the child is not in control of his/her own questioning— it is the parents who control the child’s progress through the game, and thus, the child cannot stop the game if he/she has had enough or feels like his/her own potential intellectual humiliation is not worth the extra few thousand dollars. If there’s something gifted children insist on— and something IT is right about— it is self-determination, and I see no guarantee that these children have the opportunity to exercise it.

Octavarium64 January 4, 2010, 11:18 AM

Even very controversial game shows can succeed with a solid format. This one is both controversial and flawed, and will not last long.

In addition to everything in this article, the gambling itself is stacked heavily against the genius. If you’re going to put the parents in charge of the gambling, be sure that someone who actually [i]deserves[/i] to be a parent might make these gambles.

The final four questions all have odds against the genius, with the very last one risking $340,000 out of $350,000 to add $150,000 - 2.27 to 1 odds against. Any parents that aren’t deadbeat wouldn’t take this gamble: someone coming here probably needs money. These questions, again particularly the last one, will only be known by a small fraction of MENSA. To force your little genius to play this question is neglect - [b]period[/b].

So the show is flawed, the format is controversial, but will it be good television? This is strike three. [i]Our Little Genius[/i] is in a heads I win, tails you lose situation with this format. Either everyone will win $100,000 or less and the show is boring, or FOX will be stuck airing a cesspool of parental corruption, greed, irresponsibility, and even child abuse.

At least [i]The Moment of Truth[/i], despite that, tempted you into watching it from a business perspective. But that isn’t saying very much, now is it?

Anonymous January 6, 2010, 12:03 PM

I was labeled as gifted as a child, and have just come to realize recently that my mother tends toward narcissistic personality disorder. Had this show been an option when I was a child, I may have been forced to audition because if I succeeded, then by extension my mother did too. If I failed on the show, I would have known what a huge disappointment I was. And while gifted children may act more emotionally mature, they aren’t always. Sure, I could hold full, thoughtful conversations with adults when I was 10, but I was also still sleeping with a teddy bear. I had no control over anything in my life - and as the daughter of a narcissist, even less control than most other children. To sum up, I would never put my daughter on this show, even if she did test gifted. I would never put that sort of pressure on her. Childhood is too short as it is - let her be a child, no matter what her test scores may say, and she can compete and try out for television as much as she wants when she’s of age.

Anonymous January 6, 2010, 12:08 PM

I also just noticed that two adults, once labeled as “gifted”, have now commented against the show - myself, and kat. The other comments, including the positive ones, come from a parent and others who have no connection to a gifted child, at least not one stated; these opinions are negative AND positive. So the parent of a gifted child thinks it’s a good idea but two gifted children say it isn’t - doesn’t this speak volumes against the idea in and of itself? I’ll be watching to see future comments as well.

tennmom January 6, 2010, 2:28 PM

I don’t think the show is a good idea.
Both of my daughters have VERY high I.Q.s. They are 10 and 12, so I have not told them their scores. They have the right to ask when they are 18.
I don’t want my daughters to think they don’t have to study as much, try as hard on their school work as their “normal range” peers, nor do I want them to have the idea that they are superior.
A high I.Q. score doesn’t mean someone is smarter than others. It only means that the person can learn some information faster and/or easier than some can.

Heather January 6, 2010, 8:46 PM

Fascinating article. Although I was not classified as gifted, one of my siblings was, and my parents, with the best of intentions, emphasized his specialness. Perhaps because of having a gifted sibling, I have always gravitated towards high IQ (150s range and above) individuals, including my ex-boyfriend, who started college when he was 14. My impression having loved more than one gifted individual is that such gifts come with unique challenges, much in the way that, say, exceptional good looks or enormous wealth, do. It may sound silly or hard to believe, but while high IQ, good looks, and money are blessings, it is also a great blessing to be within the average range.

Regarding this show, it seems to me that, while respecting and understanding gifted individuals’ needs to achieve and progress at their own pace, to contrive a situation like this, that will set these children apart in ostentatious ways, is not a good idea. To put it simply: it is enough of a challenge to be outside of average. I can’t speak for them, but both my sibling and my ex-boyfriend have had highly challenging emotional lives with what seems a greater than average degree of alienation and frustration than “average.” Although we all suffer pain and disappointment, I would not wish their emotional lives on anyone.

If I had a gifted child, I would value his of her gifts, but not make them a huge focus. I agree with the above commenter that a higher IQ does not mean someone is universally “smarter” than others; just that the individual has unique strengths, as we all do. I believe that emphasizing this reality to a gifted child is one of the best gifts and best preparations for life in the real world that a parent can give a gifted child—and is the opposite of what this show seems likely to do.

Most of all, the fact that, as Dr. Gollard puts it, “there is money involved and no laws regulating the situation” will invariably lead to over-pressuring and exploitation of these kids. Sounds like a terrible idea.

Interesting Take January 8, 2010, 8:13 PM

Kat,
You may want to read my post again, as I most certainly left room for the possibility of exploitation. I was merely allowing for the fact that, having been connected to thousands of families of gifted kids, moderate through profound, I have maybe come across one mother who would exploit her kid in the way you were alluding to. I’m in no way defending the show or saying that it is great TV. It is not. But neither is it something “dangerous” or “scary”. It is entertainment.

Anon,
I was identified as Gifted as a child, as was my husband. Our daughter is Profoundly Gifted. I am fine with the show.

Oct,
I totally agree, which is why I wouldn’t bet on it. It is their choice if they want to try their skill on those odds.

Interesting Take January 9, 2010, 9:21 AM

“A high I.Q. score doesn’t mean someone is smarter than others. It only means that the person can learn some information faster and/or easier than some can.”
-tennmom

I must respectfully disagree. A higher IQ score means *by definition* that one is smarter than others. Folks can manipulate the definition of the word “smarter” to bring it more in line with their own definition, but the fact is that people with higher IQ scores tend to be smarter in an academic sense. That is what an IQ test is designed to show. Is it perfect? Of course not! However, piles of data point to kiddos with higher IQ’s doing well in an academic setting. The exceptional example would be a child with an IQ above the stated range for a particular test ( 160 ) , who coincidentally does not perform well in school. This has been shown to be mostly because the child is not being challenged at his or her academic level, which is sometimes years above their chronological age.
In short—Yes, a higher IQ score means that one is smarter, in this context, and any discussion to the contrary is really about the statement: “All kids are Gifted, in their own way”. This sounds lovely and very equal, until one applies it to other statements.
Observe:
Are all kids Chinese, in their own way? Nope.
Are all kids exceptional artists, in their own way? Not really.
Are all kids great basketball players, in their own way? Of course not.
Are all kids ACADEMICALLY gifted, in their own way? Nope.
:0)

Dr. John Breeskin January 11, 2010, 3:18 PM

Dear Dr. Golland,

Bless your heart for making a public stand on the very important issue of TV for tiny contestants. Here is an article I wrote for my professional (I am a Psychologist) column on my website in regards to this issue:

Reading the New York Times continues to be injurious to my health although it is an addiction with a 60 year history. What called for this powerful response was an article from the NYT, dated Wednesday, January 6, 2010, titled “Oh, Just Answer the Question, Honey.”

The article describes a game show where children aged 6 to 12 get a chance to be exploited by the avarice and greed of grown-ups. The article says that the genius kids can win life changing money for their families. (Try $500,000) The self-serving producer by the name of Mark Burnett makes light over the fact that children are put under enormous pressure in order to live up to the excessive demands of their parents.

Some clinical psychologists have been bothered by the fact that children would feel badly about missing a question and” costing” their families megabucks. Michelle Golland, a psychologist, bless her heart, said that the show was a recipe for “a self-esteem nosedive.” She continues to say” These kids are already being characterized as a genius. The pressure is on the child to answer the question. If they lose out early, what do you think that means to them?” I will take a piece of that point: in my old neighborhood a kid who was known as a genius would have been a target for every bully in the schoolyard and his/her “differentness” would create big problems in peer group relationships.

Barry Poznick, the executive producer, simply tap dances around this issue by spouting pure nonsense designed to obfuscate the real issues. The real issue is selling soap and making a profit for Fox Television.

To put it bluntly, the children are being sold. The picture accompanying the article is grotesque. A little six-year-old is dressed up like Mark Van Doren in The $64 Question show.

Words fail me when I tried to think about the motivation of these children’s parents. They are volunteering their children to be used as Market Products. I consider this to be child abuse, and I would go to court to defend my position. To remain silent in the face of such exploitation is to condone the behavior and I refuse to do that.


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