Prodigies vs. Psychological Neoteny
Child prodigies generally have IQs between 120 and 180, depending on the area of high performance. A child prodigy is different from a generally gifted child in focusing on one area of performance with a high level of motivation--far beyond its years.
This kid is special. He was practically born on a tennis court - his mother, tennis instructor Mari, was in the middle of a lesson when her waters broke. Jan started hitting balls at the age of one and now, a veteran of five, is beating kids twice his age, courtesy of his incredible all-round game.Source
If you thought the footage of Woods hitting golf balls as a tiny tot was impressive, wait till you see Silva's forehand volley on YouTube.
Child prodigies are rarely understood, but they shine a light on a possible human future where high achievement in an adult area of expertise will not be unusual for children under the age of 14. One reason it is so rare today is the general attitude of "babying" children into lifelong psychological neoteny--often in the name of protecting them from the "harsh world."
Parents of gifted children typically have high expectations, and also model hard work and high achievement themselves (Bloom, 1985; Csikszentmihalyi et al., 1993;Gardner, 1993a). But it is logically possible that gifted children have simply inherited their gift from their parents, who also happen to be hard working achievers. Parents of children in performance domains like music and athletics are the most directive; parents of children in visual arts are the least directive; and parents of children gifted in an academic domain fall somewhere in between (Bloom, 1985). To achieve in a performance domain, one must submit to rigorous and early training; even the most gifted children might not stick to such a rigorous schedule without a directive parent, one who insists that time be spent on practice.Source
Generally gifted children may lack the level of achievement of child prodigies, despite having the same IQ levels and enriched home environment. The prodigy displays a "single-minded" devotion to his area of high performance that acts in concert with intelligence to achieve expert level performance.
Motivation and single-mindedness incorporate the mysterious "executive functions" of the human brain/mind. Executive function may be as much as 99% heritable as opposed to the 50% to 80% heritability of IQ. Given the need to possess both at high levels for "optimal achievement", it is extremely likely that heritability plays a strong role in life success.
What if the prodigy or gifted child is not recognised as such. What if the parents are largely absent, and the school system serves as more of a prison or torture chamber than a place to learn basics and to learn to live one's dreams? Much human capital is wasted in this way. Gifted children and prodigies could make huge contributions to a better future, if they are recognised, nurtured, and gently guided.
Humans are riding a centuries-long wave of achievement--begun in Europe, but now incorporating contributions from East and South Asia, the middle east, the Americas, and the South Pacific. Given the immense challenges and dangers humans face, they cannot afford to waste human capital. It is time to say goodbye to child raising that creates lifelong "cute puppies" or psychological neotenates. It is time to treat children and teens to as much expertise and competence as they care to take up.