Andrew Solomon in the NY Times Magazine, "How do you Raise a Prodigy?" I thought the parallels between raising a prodigy and raising a sociopath were compelling. He first talks about his recent research in parents that raise children with special issues:
Prodigies are able to function at an advanced adult level in some domain before age 12. “Prodigy” derives from the Latin “prodigium,” a monster that violates the natural order. These children have differences so evident as to resemble a birth defect, and it was in that context that I came to investigate them. Having spent 10 years researching a book about children whose experiences differ radically from those of their parents and the world around them, I found that stigmatized differences — having Down syndrome, autism or deafness; being a dwarf or being transgender — are often clouds with silver linings. Families grappling with these apparent problems may find profound meaning, even beauty, in them. Prodigiousness, conversely, looks from a distance like silver, but it comes with banks of clouds; genius can be as bewildering and hazardous as a disability.
He then goes on to express some of the particular difficulties in raising any child who is different than the norm, particular a child who is different from the parents themselves, and how there are no easy rules:
Children who are pushed toward success and succeed have a very different trajectory from that of children who are pushed toward success and fail. I once told Lang Lang, a prodigy par excellence and now perhaps the most famous pianist in the world, that by American standards, his father’s brutal methods — which included telling him to commit suicide, refusing any praise, browbeating him into abject submission — would count as child abuse. “If my father had pressured me like this and I had not done well, it would have been child abuse, and I would be traumatized, maybe destroyed,” Lang responded. “He could have been less extreme, and we probably would have made it to the same place; you don’t have to sacrifice everything to be a musician. But we had the same goal. So since all the pressure helped me become a world-famous star musician, which I love being, I would say that, for me, it was in the end a wonderful way to grow up.”
While it is true that some parents push their kids too hard and give them breakdowns, others fail to support a child’s passion for his own gift and deprive him of the only life that he would have enjoyed. You can err in either direction. Given that there is no consensus about how to raise ordinary children, it is not surprising that there is none about how to raise remarkable children. Like parents of children who are severely challenged, parents of exceptionally talented children are custodians of young people beyond their comprehension.
I love the Lang Lang quote. It is such a great acknowledgment that different folks require different strokes. If there is anything that I hope to achieve with the blog and getting people to think about the presence and role of sociopaths in society, it is probably to preach this gospel that we're all really different from each other in ways that we too often either ignore or pretend don't exist. There's nothing wrong with heterogeneity, in fact it is probably what keeps us so viable as the dominant species on this planet. Monster babies are born into all types of family every day. But the word monster need not mean B movie horror matinees, it could also be someone more like Lang Lang.