A whiz kid is a child or adolescent who demonstrates extraordinary artistic, intellectual or physical abilities far beyond what would be considered normal for his or her age group. A twelve year old boy who graduates from college would be considered a whiz kid, as well as an eight year old girl who can flawlessly perform a complex violin concerto. Although whiz kids can be found in almost every academic, artistic or athletic arena, many people tend to think of a whiz kid as a mathematical or scientific genius, or a freakishly intelligent but socially inept nerd or geek.
A whiz kid often lives two separate lives, one as a recognized genius in his or her field and another as a child trying to fit in socially with his or her age group. Too much dedication to one path can cause problems with the other, sometimes creating a self-involved "brainiac" with poorly developed social and physical skills. While this sort of idiosyncratic behavior may be perfectly understandable in a gifted adult, it can lead to major developmental problems for a sensitive gifted child.
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This is not to suggest a whiz kid's lifestyle is not without its benefits, however. Some musical whiz kids such as Stevie Wonder, Steve Winwood and Billy Preston, all of whom demonstrated exceptional talent at a young age, do go on to lead successful careers as adult artists. Other whiz kids find gainful employment as research scientists, computer program designers and medical professionals. Many gifted child actors such as Jodie Foster turn their early successes into lucrative adult careers.
The stereotypical character of a whiz kid or brainiac has also been a staple of television and films for decades. The titular character Doogie Howser from the television series Doogie Howser, MD was a whiz kid who graduated from medical school while still an adolescent. Malcolm from Malcolm in the Middle and Lisa Simpson from The Simpsons would also be considered whiz kids, recognized for their superior intellects by adults but somewhat ostracized by their own peer groups.
Not all whiz kids can successfully maintain their gifted status into adulthood. Sometimes a gifted child becomes uninterested in pursuing an accelerated lifestyle, preferring instead to live his or her life outside of a pressure-filled academic or artistic environment. Others experience an intellectual growth spurt early in their lives which qualifies them as whiz kids, but over time that gap between themselves and their peers closes.
A certain percentage of whiz kids do parlay their early skills into lucrative adult careers, but many former whiz kids find comfort in living relatively normal lives as adults without being exploited for their superior intellectual or artistic abilities.