Tips for Parents: Smart boys
Cohn, S.
Davidson Institute for Talent Development

This Tips for Parents article is from a seminar hosted by Sanford Cohn. He conducted this seminar for parents of highly intelligent boys. This article offers families four recommendations to consider in relation to radical acceleration.

Psychologist Sanford J. Cohn, Ph.D., is a professor of education at Arizona State University, where his research, teaching and service efforts have focused on the personal and educational development of gifted learners. In December 2003, he conducted a Davidson Institute online seminar for parents of highly intelligent boys and offered the following recommendations concerning the principles, strategies and practices that are useful to families with smart boys.

  1. Radical acceleration remains a rare strategy for attempting to make an optimal match between a smart boy's opportunities for learning and his profile of specific abilities, developed skills, attitudes, interests and preferences. Radical acceleration usually means skipping multiple grades - a strategy that requires the student to have exceptional verbal and mathematical reasoning and the requisite skills for high performance in the target situation (usually high school or college). Some boys who are talented in either verbal or mathematical reasoning, but not in both, choose to jump ahead to their appropriate level of learning in the relevant subject areas, while remaining in other appropriate-level classes already based on their less developed areas of academic reasoning and attendant skills.

  2. The boy's social and emotional development must be considered when looking for educational alternatives. For example, is he naturally drawn to older friends, or is he concerned about leaving his present set of friends? Even if social issues represent relatively low risk, both parents must be in agreement about the decision and their roles in providing a radically accelerated student the support he will need, such as transportation, his own study space, access to technology, liberties, etc. Most importantly, the boy in question must himself want to make a radical move in support of a potentially better setting in which he can learn. All of these factors should point to the strategies of choice. The Iowa Scale of Acceleration provides a systematic analysis of these and other factors to be considered when deciding whether or not radical acceleration is appropriate in a particular circumstance.

  3. Concern about the social and emotional development of highly intelligent boys remains a persistent focus among parents considering a move to radical acceleration in order to facilitate their son's learning. What they most often fail to consider is that doing nothing educationally different may have as profound an effect on the smart boy's development as something quite unusual. As a psychologist, I have always wondered why parents, educators, counselors and others think that keeping brilliant youths entrapped with a group of age mates, who don't understand them and frequently don't even like them, offers these boys a better chance of social and emotional health and happiness than allowing them to interact with others who share their interests. Social and emotional wellness is far more likely the result of positive interaction with others who can respect, honor and communicate with these youths. Sometimes it takes considerable ingenuity on the family's part to facilitate such social interaction. The advent of the Internet expands the opportunities for smart boys to find peers who share their interests and abilities.

  4. The question about whether or not a highly talented boy should attempt to fit in with his age mates remains controversial. One parent observed that it is far easier to be a non-conformist at age 30 than it is at 9 ½. In social skills workshops with highly talented boys, I have found that they respond beautifully to mildly didactic discussions about social skills. It helps to have someone inform them about proper behavior in a variety of situations. Many workshop participants learned that they could benefit from spending some of their intellectual capital in service of their social selves. As a group, however, these youths don't suffer fools gladly - an attitude born and nurtured by an educational system and a society that sometimes appears to ignore or attempts to distract them from developing their extraordinary talents.

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