Channel 4 ventured into the weird world of child geniuses last night, following 20 supremely gifted youngsters, and their sometimes super-competitive parents, as they battled it out to be Britain’s cleverest child.
It was an eye-opening hour, full of mental maths my 24-year-old brain couldn’t even begin to compute, and one that left me supremely glad I have never come anywhere close to being a genius.
Not that I wasn’t a clever child. I could cat’s cradle with the best of them and I memorised every single word to Shania Twain’s 1997 album Come On Over with impressive speed. But my childhood was a million miles away from these kids’. And I’m so glad it was.
Eleven-year-old Eleanor (we might share the same name, but clearly not the same attitude) is already worried about not getting a good graduate job and therefore starving to death.
At that age I was most concerned about whether or not my mum would let my Tamigotchi die while I was at school. If I’m honest with myself, I still don’t face head-on the quite high chance that one day I might end up with no dinner (most likely because my lack of number skills prevent me from budgeting effectively).
Nine-year-old Aliyah, with her IQ of 135, has to spend any time away from studying doing chin raises while her psychologist parents feed her juices made of all the smushed up vegetables under the sun – “It’s a lot easier to drink five carrots than it is to eat five carrots.”
Her every waking moment is geared towards achieving her optimum performance. “Raising a gifted kid is a little bit like raising a well bred horse,” says Aliyah’s dad.
I don’t mean to make my own parents sound neglectful, but as long as I was polite and ate my greens, I was for the most part left to my own devices. There were zero similarities between my childhood and that of a prize horse (aside from the fact that we both spent a lot of time running around on grass – where coincidentally I was managing a really rather successful “café”, having worked out that if you put bits of toilet roll in a bowl with mud, orange poster paint and water it looks a bit like chicken casserole).
This lot, however, do not have that luxury, thanks to all the weight they must feel on their clever little shoulders to embark on more intellectual past times.
Tiny 10-year-old Curtis has already studied music at degree level and his Grandma thinks he is a reincarnated Mozart. Talk about pressure.
Tudor AND his big sister Hazel made it through to the next round of the competition last night, but their parents still weren’t impressed. “It puts everything back into perspective. Maybe you’re not as good as we thought,” said Tudor’s dad of his disappointing scores.
Now there is no denying that it’s good to measure success by intelligence, skill and hard work, not popularity, prettiness or the price of your Quicksilver backpack. Of course we should nurture, encourage and support incredibly gifted children, but still. At this age they should be playing, not pitting themselves against one another.
We are competitive enough when it comes to pay rises and promotions, battling alongside our peers in the job market. Why start it when you’re still in single figures?
That’s why I’m glad this world was never an option for my parents. There’s no pressure when everyone’s 100% sure you’re average…
Child Genius continues on Sunday at 9:00pm on Channel 4
Ellie is an entertainment, TV and film journalist writing news and (hopefully incredibly witty) comment for RadioTimes.com. She loves light-hearted dramas and glossy US series - and is more than a little bit obsessed with Downton Abbey. Foodie, sun-seeker and aspiring novelist in her own time. Likes the fact that her name rhymes with telly.