Today’s T-shirt Tuesday was inspired by the adorable baby below in the “acute baby” onesie (aka, a baby t-shirt.) So let’s get to it! Everyone wants a smart kid right? But how do you raise a smart kid? And can you or is it just genetics?
The Genetics of Genius
Despite what every parent thinks, you’re kid probably isn’t a genius (sorry). Of course it also depends on how you define genius. Most people use IQ tests to determine genius. Other people think genius is having an exceptional ability. Regardless, when talking about genius, it does appear genetics is a very large driver. While environment and education are needed to elevate someone smart over the top to genius, it really starts with the genes.
For example, way back in 2007, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis confirmed a link between the gene, CHRM2, and performance IQ, which involves a person’s ability to organize things logically. That doesn’t mean all geniuses are born that way, but they probably have a good genetic head start.
The Parental Desire for Genius
Of course parents are always trying to determine if their kid is a genius and there are plenty of websites that will give you hope with vague explanations of early milestones like reading early, asks questions, musical, makes up unusual games, gets less sleep. (People have babies who sleep? Wish I knew what that was like.) But, only 2% of people in the world qualify for MENSA (an exclusive international society open only to people who score at or above the 98th percentile on an IQ or other standardized intelligence test.) You don’t need to be a genius to figure out that’s a pretty small number of people and that the odds of your kid being a genius aren’t very high.
But what about being smart? Is that mostly genetics too?
Even if not everyone is a genius, that doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of smart people in this world. The research indicates that when it comes to intelligence (not genius but whether or not you’re smart) it’s really a combination of both genetics and environment. Some research indicates that up to 40% of intelligence is genetic. However, that leaves 60% from somewhere else. Other studies indicate genetics even plays a role in how well you do in school, meaning there are certain genetically predisposed traits that may certain students better at school. What’s left unsaid here is the question – does doing well in school make you smart?
What Does it Mean to Be Smart
Like “genius”, the term “smart” is relative. You hear people say – so and so is book-smart, but not street-smart. There are many ways to be smart. Personally, I don’t think smart is solely about genetically predisposed ability (and most studies agree it’s a combination of genetic and environmental factors, although the influence of both is much debated). However, I think there is an aspect of intelligence that is simply willingness to explore the world through thought. If you don’t even want to really think, then it’s kind of hard to be smart.
Sure, thanks to genetics, intelligent thought (the fancy way to describe smartness) is probably easier for some than others. But, there are some pretty smart people out there who are doing stupid things because they just don’t want to use their brains. It’s hard. I’m not naturally intelligent. I have to work at it. I read and read and read and think and think and think. It’s not easy. But, I want to understand and know things. So I work out my brain.
Which leads to the question – how do we get kids to use that other non-genetic 60% and make full use of their intelligence? I think the answer is books! And there’s data to back me up!
Boosting Intelligence Through Reading
People try all kinds of things and fads to boost intelligence. When my daughter was a baby it was all about Baby Mozart and how that would somehow make her smarter. Guess what, plopping your kid in front of a TV is never going to make them smarter. You know what will? That’s right, reading!
- Kids who have better reading skills in elementary school, perform higher IQ tests later in life.
- Reading to kids changes their brains and helps them develop better language and literacy skills.
- Interactive reading with children under 4 could boost IQ by around 6 points.
- Critical reading and writing boosts intelligence and may explain why students today perform, on average, about 20 points higher on IQ tests than in the early 20th century.
- Reading increases “fluid intelligence,” the ability to solve problems, understand things and detect meaningful patterns.
It’s Not Just About IQ, Emotional Intelligence May Be the Most Important Kind of Intelligence
There are other types of intelligence beyond just looking at IQ and school achievement. Emotional intelligence is the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. (Honestly, this is where I feel like our world is seriously lacking.)
Numerous studies have shown that reading fiction can improve the ability of people to relate to each other. So when your kid wants to read Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus or The Giving Tree or Rainbow Fish for the millionth time, it’s a good thing. You’re helping them increase their emotional intelligence and 10-20 years from now, if any of us are still alive, we’ll be thanking you for it because increasing emotional intelligence is probably the only thing that will save us from our own destruction.