Geniuses or not, let our children stay grounded

December 11, 2016 - 09:00

Every child has his or her own talents and downsides. Praising them too much, too early may end up doing more harm than good.

Viet Nam News

By Nguyễn Mỹ Hà

We ran a small news item this week about Evan Le, a Vietnamese-American piano genius, performing in HCM City for the first time.

I have seen him on You Tube, performing live on Ellen de Generes and Steve Harvey’s Little Big Shots. His amazing talent has won the five-year-old gushing praise from all over the world, including pretty much all my friends online.

But I, for one, am not impressed. Let me explain.

I am not referring to the boy’s obvious talent. I just want to place that talent in context.

Once in a while, you can find a five-year-old genius in anything: math, piano, painting, languages or even poetry.

And when it happens, I, like many others, enjoy reading about it.

If it happens once or even twice a year, it’s okay as the child needs to be complemented as encouragement for time spent on learning something, say for a semester or a summer, and displaying surprisingly prodigious talent.

But I do not support having the child being interviewed like an adult. I do not support that he or she is made to play, sing or perform at more than two venues a year.

Call me conservative, but I think we should not lose sight of the fact that between three and five, their pre-school days, children are at a tender age, endlessly curious about the world around them, and experimenting all the time with their senses. They want to touch, smell, taste and hear things for themselves.

But this curiosity has to be managed so that they don’t go overboard and harm themselves. At this age, parents, or other responsible adults, have to be there, all the time.

So when they say or do something precocious, the reaction of the people around can trigger their enthusiasm for continuing in that vein, or discourage them. This reaction will depend on whether the child said or did anything rude, for instance, using a swear word that kids normally wouldn’t hear or use.

This is also an age when the kids develop their imagination and fantasies, and they might not sort these out very well, especially if they are influenced by adults in ways that encourage this confusion, because it is “cute” or something else.

I believe every child has his or her own talents and downsides. Praising them too much, too early may end up doing more harm than good.

If a five-year-old can play the piano, or sing a song well, something he or she thinks is fun, and a fully packed hall applauds wildly; a year later, any applause less than that might make the child and the parents feel let down and disappointed.

Stability development comes from the joy of succeeding, failing and succeeding again. At an early age, a child needs a certain balance in his or her life. Too much of anything, adulation or criticism or indifference, can have a deleterious impact later on.

At school, we used to adore the poems of Trần Đăng Khoa, Việt Nam’s most famous poetry genius. The poems, written when he was in primary school, were simple and beautiful like crystals.

I used to watch Japan’s piano genius Aimi Kobayashi playing Clementi’s Sonatina at four with awe.

Now Trần Đăng Khoa is a writer, and poetry is no longer his gig. It was a special gift he had during his childhood. Period!

Aimi Kobayashi is now a concert pianist. We watched her perform at the last Chopin Piano Competition in 2015 and found that some other contestants, virtual unknowns when Kobayashi was a child prodigy, have now caught up with her, and some even outdid her.

I do not mean to dismiss the sheer beauty of the special talent that a child may have. I mean we need to handle it, and the child, with care. Treasure the talent but do not put more stress on the child, not to mention the parents. Parents get flattered even more than their kid, and this might not be for the best.

Let our children, geniuses and otherwise, stand firmly on the ground. Do not hold them up too high for too long. Our hands will get tired, and the child will lose the thrill. VNS