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Parents Of Child Prodigies Face Difficult Choices

Oct 4, 2013
Originally published on October 4, 2013 10:36 am



This week on the program, we've been talking to and about prodigies: children with extraordinary abilities far beyond their age. Yesterday, we talked about how hard it is to find the right balance, encouraging these kids without setting expectations too high, something that can hurt them later as adults. This is largely up to their parents, who face some incredibly difficult choices. And today we'll hear from two parents: the mother of a teenage computer wonder and the father of a pint-sized tennis phenom.


GREENE: Gabriella Price is 10 years old, 75-pounds, and a powerhouse on the tennis court.

GABRIELLA PRICE: I want to be one of the best tennis players of all time.

GREENE: She was featured recently on a YouTube channel about prodigies called "THNKR."


PRICE: Players that have played that are bigger and stronger than me, I really don't get intimidated, because my abilities are just as good.

GREENE: And the person who's been developing those abilities is Coach Rick Macci, whose past students include Venus and Serena Williams. The other driving force in her tennis life is her father, Marc Price, who played tennis in college.

MARC PRICE: She is four-foot-seven. She is full of energy. She loves to win at anything she does.

GREENE: When you see her taking shots, I mean, are you ever amazed that someone who's four-foot-seven and 75 pounds can hit the ball so hard?

PRICE: I, you know, coming from playing tennis all my life, some of the stuff that she does, I'm blown away.

GREENE: That's Marc Price talking about his daughter Gabriella. And now let's meet a teenage computer whiz. Here's a snippet of his video from the Prodigy Channel.


SANTIAGO GONZALES: My name is Santiago Gonzales, and I love to program. I'm fluent in about a dozen different programming languages. Thousands of people have downloaded my apps.

GREENE: Santiago wants to work one day for Apple, and that might happen sooner than you think. School was always a challenge for Santiago - the challenge being it was just too easy. So he went straight from sixth grade into college. Santiago will graduate next year with a bachelor's degree in computer science. He's 15 years old.

VANESA GONZALES: Santiago, he's tall. He's a very sweet guy. He's very old in some ways, very young in others, and that makes him very special.

GREENE: That's the voice of Santiagio's mother, Vanesa Gonzales. She joined Gabriella's father, Marc Price, to talk with us about what it's like to raise a gifted child. Vanesa says Santiago's gift for learning surfaced very early.

GONZALES: We really noticed there was a difference when he started preschool. He was more advanced, but we thought, well, it's because of the time we spent with him. When it really hit us was in first grade, when he started not enjoying school that much. So that's when we noticed that he was very, very different.

GREENE: Marc, let me ask you. What was the moment that you point to when you said my goodness, my daughter is an incredible athlete, there's something extraordinary?

PRICE: Well, she was one and two, we always, like, played ball. And I just noticed a good hand-eye coordination. And when she turned four, I gave her a racket and I said, all right, let me feed her a ball. And it was like a missile that came at my head, the first ball she actually hit.


PRICE: And I actually said, all right, that's it. We went home, and I just started just training her every day.

GREENE: You and your wife, incredibly honest in the video that we watched, and I wanted to play just a little bit of it for us here.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: You can see that she has that passion. We don't want it for her. She wants it for herself. And...

PRICE: Correction.


PRICE: I want it for her.


PRICE: I do want it for her. Listen.


GREENE: Marc, let me just ask you: Why did you need to make that distinction?

PRICE: I felt when you're dealing with sports or anything for the child, a parent has to be the driving force behind it. They're not going to initiate at four years old. And if I was the parent that said, OK, instead of playing four days a week, let's just play once every other week, let's play 10 minutes a day, she wouldn't be where she is.

GREENE: Your wife expressed some concern that, as she put it, you can get a little crazy with the pressure. How do you feel when she says things like that?

PRICE: Yeah. Well, listen, I was never on Gabriella at four and five years - I mean, I used to train her at four and five, but it didn't get - it wasn't a crazy environment. It was a very easygoing environment, and let's just be disciplined and let's do the right thing on the court. And even though she was really good at seven, her footwork needed work. Her forehand needed work. Her backhand needed work. Her serve needed work. But, you know, she embraced it. She enjoyed it. She enjoys tennis.

GREENE: Vanesa, I wonder what you're thinking about when you listen to what Marc and I were just saying. I mean, can you relate to what he's talking about?

GONZALES: For us, it's been a little bit different. Santiago has been the force there. We were always trying to feed that inquisitive mind he has and keep him challenged. We were always kind of, like, trying to catch up and provide him what he needs. And he has always decided.

GREENE: Something you mentioned, that in some ways, he's so mature, but in some ways, he's actually younger than his age. What do you mean by that?

GONZALES: Well, you can talk to him as an adult most of the time, and you forget that you're talking to a kid. He has knowledge about everything. He's very mature. He's not into going to parties or - he enjoys more mature company. But he still has his stuffed animals and he still loves to play with Legos sometimes. So in that area, I would say that he's younger. But on the other hand, you talk to him, and you're talking to a 25-year-old.

GREENE: There are people who have studied child prodigies. I mean, this phenomenon of having such extraordinary talent at a young age, that the beauty of this and also the pitfalls. Have you thought about that, the role that you play?

GONZALES: I'm not really worried about the future, to tell you the truth. I am more - I was more worried when we didn't know exactly how to make him happy, how to feed his needs. At this point, I think that's he's on a good path, and I see this path just opening to be something better.


PRICE: We don't look at Gabriella as a prodigy. We look at her as Gabriella.

GREENE: Mm-hmm.

PRICE: And, you know, failure and success right now is - we're not looking at that. We're looking at her to develop as a tennis player and a good kid. And with the lessons that she's learning at this point in her life, a kid could be 25 years old, 30 years old and not learning what she's learned at 10.

So, a pitfall to me, there's no way. Because she doesn't win Wimbledon, that's not a failure. She's a good kid no matter what, and she'll be successful no matter what she does.

GREENE: We have talked so much about your kids, Gabby and Santiago, please tell them I say hi and best of luck to them.

GONZALES: Thank you.

GREENE: And thanks to both of you, Marc and Vanesa, for taking the time to talk to us.

PRICE: Thank you, David. I appreciate it.

GONZALES: Thank you so much for having us here.

PRICE: Thank you. Good luck, Vanesa, with your son.

GONZALES: Same there. Good luck with that tennis.

PRICE: Thank you, and hopefully your son is the next Jobs, huh?


GREENE: The parents of prodigies. That was Marc Price, father of tennis wonder Gabriella. We also heard from Vanesa Gonzales, the mother of computer marvel Santiago. This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm David Greene.


And I'm Renee Montagne. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.