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I know a couple of children in their early or pre-teen years who have already accomplished more than many adults accomplish in their entire careers. These accomplishments seem to be a combination of natural talent, hard work, and an intense focus on their chosen area of interest.

The last characteristic doesn't describe every child prodigy, but it describes some, and its that concept that concerns me.

Specifically, is there a downside to missing being exposed to a wide variety of interests, particularly before the teenage years?

I believe it is important for a parent to encourage interests, but is it appropriate for a parent to also impose limits to those interests?

If a child is advanced enough to be collaborating on developing the next big development framework, is it ok for a parent to say "you've been sitting at that computer for three hours straight. Go outside and play!"?

Note that this isn't specific to computer use. It is just as applicable to a child who plays a musical instrument, builds, creates art, etc..

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    "is it ok for a parent to say \"you've been sitting at that computer for three hours straight. Go outside and play!\"?" Only 3 hours? – bjb568 Mar 7 '15 at 20:59
  • @bjb568 How long might be considered excessive is highly variable dependent on age, but consider 3 hours to be a completely arbitrary placeholder for purposes of getting an answer. Please don't read too much into it. – user420 Mar 7 '15 at 21:06
  • @bjb568isnotapebble Actually, the recommended amount of screen time per day for children over two is "only" 2 hours. scientificamerican.com/article/… – General Nuisance Jul 1 '16 at 4:38
  • @GeneralNuisance That looks like a fear mongering article with little support for the outrageous claim that all children, apparently regardless of age, should have their media consumption limited to only two hours. Sure we know TV is bad and heavily overused, but all screen time? Especially since it gives no upper bound age, I'd say this claim is rediculous. – bjb568 Jul 1 '16 at 4:51
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    @bjb568isnotapebble Incidentally, I didn't agree with the 2 hour limit. I have no problem with my son watching 3-4 hours of science documentaries, for example. – user420 Jul 1 '16 at 13:36
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Yes, there are downsides to the lack of exposure to other activities:

  1. The child may not get exposure to societal conventions or norms outside of their area of expertise.
  2. The child may not develop other skills, and thus lack options if they ever stop pursuing their current interest.
  3. Increased demands/expectations on a child that may have heightened intellectual capacity, but not comparable emotional or other neurological development. The added stress and exposure can lead to an increased risk of anxiety and depression in such children.

1 and 2 here also apply to children that spend too much time playing video games or watching TV (if watching TV could be called an expertise).

However, there can also be downsides to forcing your child to not engage in their chosen activity: They could be on their way to being experts and/or leaders in their field, and preventing them from pursuing their interest may hinder their development.

Some of my readings indicate that the key to raising prodigies lies in proper support for their abilities. If the parents can recognize that their child has that ability, and help nurture it, then the child can be largely successful and happy. The "dark side" of being a prodigy tends to occur when a child is being forced to work or practice, or doesn't get to have a say in what they're learning.

For your specific example of the prodigy developer, I think some of these points have to be thought about with the field of computers specifically in mind. My early point 1 may be largely irrelevant, as society tends to accept "geeks" of all levels of social ability. Point 3 may be mitigated some by the fact that most of their interaction with their "peers" will be through the Internet, where it can be easier to separate oneself emotionally.

Additionally, coding isn't a task that takes well to interruption. A 10 minute break may take an additional 10-15 to recover from and get back into the zone. The frustration of this downtime may be detrimental to the child's goals and progress.

Also, there are physical issues to be concerned about. It is not healthy for a child to be sitting in any given position for 3 hours straight, much less at a computer where their hands are performing repeated tasks. It's going to be very important for them to take adequate breaks and stretch. While it may not be the best idea to come in at specific times and say, "Take a break, now.", it would be a great idea to train the child to make sure they're taking breaks often, especially between tasks. It may also necessitate investing in a highly ergonomic work environment for the child, to promote the long-term health of their hands/wrists/spine.

In many ways, a child prodigy should still be treated like a child. Even if their abilities in their domains exceed your abilities, or even your understanding, you still have the ability to teach and guide them. They can learn things like time management, stress management, healthy habits, communication skills, emotional intelligence, conflict resolution, and more. Developing a framework, mastering the viola, or painting a masterpiece don't require any of the other skills I just listed. (No, not even time management! Focusing on one thing, and one thing only, isn't time management.)

Even if the child doesn't get exposed to other activities, they're working on something they already enjoy. It can be very hard for people of any age to find something their passionate enough about to devote so much time and energy to as a prodigy may. I would hesitate to put too much of a damper on that. Even if they change their mind later in life, they may have developed their particular skill well enough to allow them to do it as a job so that may use their free time to pursue other interests.

  • This answer addresses the question, which I find a bit vague, very well. Honestly, I think it helped me understand the intent of the question better! – Reed Rawlings Dec 3 '15 at 23:01
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Parents need to set limits. However, I also believe the appropriate limits are way higher than most modern western parents tend to set them. For a start, most kids spend six hours a day being exposed to a broad range of topics, usually including PE. Extroverts will actively seek out social opportunities to recharge, and introverts don't need as many social opportunities.

If you're homeschooling and your child is literally spending all day on their interest to the exclusion of any physical or social activity, you have a problem that needs addressing. If your child has spent all day at school, gotten a half hour of physical activity, and finished his homework, then he still has a pretty well-rounded day even if he spends the entire remainder of it on his chosen interest.

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There are important distinctions to be made, that are getting glossed over. The most problematic phrase (to me) in your question is "impose limits to those interests". Unless the "interest" itself is dangerous (illegal, harmful), the answer is a big DON'T. It's not the INTEREST that is the problem.

That said, there is only so much time, and there are necessarily competing "interests"/obligations. You can demand that some other interest get some attention as well (and at certain times if there are scheduling issues). But don't ration or terminate the time spent on the primary interest directly. Leave how to manage the time to the child as much as possible.

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I didn't like that pressure(well by pressure i mean saying me to take a 'brake') from my parents, so I think that in child's interests you should allow them to do whatever they want for few hours(without disturbing them) and then gently ask them to take a brake for 5-10 minutes, go to shop, help you cook, etc, because if you kick them to play outside nothing good is gonna happen and who are they gonna play with? Preteens are kinda computer-attracted not toy attracted


Shorter version: There SHOULD be a little bit of control but not too much, as if it is too much child will not have enough motivation to do what they need to.

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Personally I would approach it more like planned experiences so they know it's coming ahead of time.

As a software developer, it would be ridiculous and counter-productive to have someone randomly inject some unrelated activity in the middle of my focus. Like music, or any passion, programming can be developed in chunks with quantifiable goals. To pull you out in the middle of one of those chunks could mean having to start over when you resume. If the child is excelling in an area of interest, then I would let them move at their own pace. If you suggest an activity or some kind of interjection, ask if they would be interested in doing so on a specific day or time so they know that time will be reserved. If they say no, maybe it's better to not stress it further.

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