Last week, Lifetime brought a popular British television show to the American screen. Over the course of eight weeks, the American MENSA holds a competition that tests 20 of the country’s most intelligent and well-rounded children, all of whom are under twelve. They endure a series of extensive quizzes, answering questions on high school level mathematics, world geography and history, SAT vocabulary, science and other subjects. The show cuts from question to question quickly, barely allowing the audience time to process the information or play along like in other game shows –demonstrating how the topics fly over our heads even as adults.
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The show opens with insight into each contestant’s “normal” home life. The preparation behind the scenes is toilsome and exhausting, but the grand prize is enticing: $100,000 toward college, and more importantly, the prestigious title of Child Genius. Thus, for the kids, their days include rigorous intellectual training routines, various extracurricular lessons and parents who drill them without cessation. One mother justifies to her son, “I’m not a Tiger Mommy … (I) just don’t
want you to look like an idiot.”
At the end of the episode, half of the contestants are cut – to their disheartening sobs, and their parents’ scowls. Though it should be uplifting to see potential in a generation that will lead our future “Child Genius” is often labeled as “the most controversial reality TV show.” Even before they have reached double-digit ages, these children’s greatest fears are failure and disappointment. The series is not unlike other reality television programs that “exhibit” (or exploit?) the talents of today’s youth. Is this a worthwhile price for precocity?