Raising Bill Gates

I just read a fascinating article about what it was like to raise Bill Gates as a child written by Robert A Guth of the Wall Street Journal.com:

Do you think it was easy to raise a child like Bill Gates? If yes, think again.

When the trouble began:

The first stage — argumentative young boy — “started about the time he was 11,” Mr. Gates Sr. says in one of a series of interviews. That’s about when young Bill became an adult, says Bill Sr., and an increasing headache for the family.

Until that time, the Gates home had been peaceful. Bill Sr. and his wife, Mary, had three children: Kristi; then Bill, born in 1955; and Libby. It was a close family that thrived on competitions — board games, cards, ping-pong. And on rituals: Sunday dinners at the same time every week, and at Christmas, matching pajamas for every family member.

Friction between child and parent intensifies:

The son pushed against his mother’s instinct to control him, sparking a battle of wills. All those things that she had expected of him — a clean room, being at the dinner table on time, not biting his pencils — suddenly turned into a big source of friction. The two fell into explosive arguments.

Reaching critical mass:

A Battle of Wills

Bill Gates at an early age became a diligent learner. He read the World Book Encyclopedia series start to finish. His parents encouraged his appetite for reading by paying for any book he wanted.

Still, they worried that he seemed to prefer books to people. They tried to temper that streak by forcing him to be a greeter at their parties and a waiter at his father’s professional functions.

Then, at age 11, Bill Sr. says, the son blossomed intellectually, peppering his parents with questions about international affairs, business and the nature of life.

“It was interesting and I thought it was great,” Mr. Gates Sr. says. “Now, I will say to you, his mother did not appreciate it. It bothered her.”
The battles reached a climax at dinner one night when Bill Gates was around 12. Over the table, he shouted at his mother, in what today he describes as “utter, total sarcastic, smart-ass kid rudeness.”

That’s when Mr. Gates Sr., in a rare blast of temper, threw the glass of water in his son’s face.

He and Mary brought their son to a therapist. “I’m at war with my parents over who is in control,” Bill Gates recalls telling the counselor. Reporting back, the counselor told his parents that their son would ultimately win the battle for independence, and their best course of action was to ease up on him.

Sound familiar?

The only thing that surprises me about this story is that the trouble only began when Bill Gates was 11. I would have thought he would have been quite the handful even before then as many gifted individuals are.

At the SENG (Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted) website, there is an interesting article highlighting some of the points in the book Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnosis of Gifted Children.

Towards the bottom of the article there is a table of strengths of the gifted child and possible problems associated with them. It’s an interesting list to keep in mind when you are dealing with a child who has challenging behavior (this includes me). The very things that drive you insane are their strengths if they are channeled productively. It doesn’t take much to figure out what would have happened if Bill Gates’ counselor saw his behavior as a problem and decided to medicate him in order for his parents to keep firm control over him.

I also found another list of gifted traits at RIAGE (Rhode Island Advocates for Gifted Education) in an easy to read format.

They include a wonderful summary of the more frustrating (for parents/teachers) aspects of the creatively gifted child:

…[T]he creatively gifted may also show traits that upset normal parents, teachers and administrators as well as other students and colleagues. Viewed in a positive light, it is important to realize that most of these traits are related to the creatively gifted child’s confidence, independence, curiosity, interest in novelty, humor and persistence. Some of these traits include:

1. Indifference to Common Conventions & Courtesies
2. Stubbornness& Resistance to Domination
3. Arguments that the Rest of the Parade is Out of Step
4. Uncooperativeness
5. Capriciousness
6. Cynicism
7. Low Interest in Details
8. Sloppiness & Disorganization with Unimportant Matters
9. Tendency to Question Laws, Rules, & Authority in General
10. Egocentric & Demanding
11. Emotional and/or Withdrawn
12. Overactive Physically or Mentally
13. Forgetfulness, Absentmindedness, Mind Wanders

Something to think about when you are exasperated that your bright child seems hell-bent on battling you at every turn or your creatively gifted child seems careless in some areas, stubborn, or indifferent to social expectations. Because I know how fiercely I battled my parents for autonomy (my mother frequently wished on me to have children as difficult as I was) and because I know I have at least two gifted children, hopefully I can plan for the potential problems and head them off at the pass.

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