Talented teenagers: The roots of success and failure
Csikszentmihalyi, M., Rathmunde, K. & Whalen, S.
ISBN: 0521574633
Cambridge University Press
1997

BOOK REVIEW (Carolyn Cook) - Talented Teenagers: The Roots of Success and Failure, by authors Csikszentmihalyi, Rathunde and Whalen details the findings of an extensive five-year longitudinal study that strove to answer two questions: How do young people become committed to the development of their talent? And, why do some young people become disengaged from their talent? The authors sought to find commonalities and differences between those teens that went on to use their talents into adulthood from those that drifted away from their areas of talent into jobs that required only average skills.

Reviewed by Carolyn Cook.

This book details the findings of an extensive five-year longitudinal study that strove to answer two questions: How do young people become committed to the development of their talent? And, why do some young people become disengaged from their talent? The authors sought to find commonalities and differences between those teens that went on to use their talents into adulthood from those that drifted away from their areas of talent into jobs that required only average skills.

Talented Teenagers is divided into three sections. Part I discusses what talent is, what talented teenagers are like, how they live, and the research study itself. Part II discusses areas of talent as well as the impact families, schools, and teachers have on talent development. The final section discusses the commitment to, and cultivation of, talent and includes a summary of the research.

"What Have We Learned?" found at the end of Part III, is a reader friendly summary of this very complex piece of work. Particularly concise is the "Summary of Factors Associated With Talent Development" section. The authors list the following eight factors, from their research, that influence talent development.

  • Children must be recognized as talented in order to develop a talent and therefore they must have skills that are considered useful in their culture.
  • Talented students have personality traits conducive to concentration, such as achievement and endurance, as well as traits that allow them to be open to experience, such as awareness and understanding.
  • Talent development is easier for teens that have learned habits conducive to cultivating talent (e.g., spending time in challenging pursuits with friends instead of just hanging out, the modulation of attention, spending more time alone).
  • Talented Teens are more conservative in their sexual attitudes and aware of the possible conflict between productive work and peer relations.
  • Families that provide both support and challenge enhance the development of talent.
  • Talented teenagers liked teachers best who were supportive and modeled enjoyable involvement in a field.
  • Talent development is a process that requires both expressive (evoking positive feelings) and instrumental (useful to future goals) rewards.
  • A talent will be developed if it produces optimal experiences. Memories of peak moments motivate students to keep improving in hopes of achieving the same intensity of experience again.

The authors, Csikszentmihalyi, Rathunde and Whalen, have produced a very detailed account of their research findings. This book is best suited to the research enthusiast, as it is quite complex at times, but the information discussed within would be valuable to anyone interested in supporting gifted teens develop their talent.


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