What is a Whiz Kid?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

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 may be exceptionally gifted in math.
A whiz kid may be exceptionally gifted in math.

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.

Musical whiz kids have early, natural talent.
Musical whiz kids have early, natural talent.

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.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments


@Ana1234 - There have been some interesting studies of children who might be considered to be whiz kids, especially of those who turned into technology gurus and often they were just very bright, without really being what you would call a genius.

They owed their success more to their circumstances in life and a few lucky breaks, rather than any magical mind powers. If you are rich enough to be given all the best whiz kid toys then you are going to seem more like a whiz kid than the child down the street who only gets to watch TV in his downtime.


@browncoat - I think that the term gets thrown around now. I've been called a PC whiz kid by my family because I happen to know a few tricks that anyone could learn. I'm definitely not a genius with computers though.

Even most children who are labeled as whiz kids don't really qualify. I have a nephew who is very smart and good at a lot of things, but he isn't a genius and he often gets labeled a "whiz kid" by his teachers.

In some ways I actually think the main difference between him and his peers is that he enjoys learning. He's not better at it, he's just more persistent.


They sometimes apply this to up-and-comers in a business environment who might be young, but not exactly children. Although I guess it might be said with a little bit of sarcasm, since people are generally annoyed when they notice someone younger than them who has more natural ability.

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