When Jack Andraka was a freshman (in high school!) last year, he invented a method for identifying pancreatic cancer that was cheaper, faster, and more accurate than the one most doctors were using. That invention won him the top prize at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair — an award that his older brother had twice been a finalist for. Yep, these kids are smart. So what’s the family secret? Herbal supplements? No TV? Lots of yelling and guilt?
Alas, it’s both simpler and more complicated than that. In an interview with Forbes, the Andraka parents (Steve and Jane) talked about how they raised two kids who, before they could legally purchase beer, were creating cancer-detecting devices and figuring out how to deal with acid mine drainage.
Here are some of their best advice:
- Support independent learning. ” I almost always have them learn by doing and by making controlled mistakes. And in the process, they think through the problem. When they are stuck on a problem I come over and make them show me what they have done and most of the time they find their problem by just explaining to me what they have done. By explaining things, it makes them think deeper about it and this works with almost all of their problems.”
- Rules limit creativity. “We have ‘minimal rules’, but nothing that stifles creativity. Basically, you can sum it up simply: treat people with respect, do your homework, be honest and try to be safe. Having too many rules burdens down the entire family and limits thinking.”
- There’s nothing wrong with a little competition. ” If they have a competitive side, encourage them to compete on math team or debate team or art competitions. Winning in these type things boosts self esteem. Also, see what other higher level competitions exist. Often, the school may not even know about these other competition. Remember, you are you child’s best advocate and resource. Don’t wait for the school to present your child with opportunities.”
- Stay focused. “Focusing on a particular project is very important in achieving higher goals. When you focus just on a specific goal or problem and ‘wrap your head around the goal’ it opens up all kinds of creativity and problem solving. It’s amazing when a child goes from a feeling of powerlessness to one of mastery.”
And the major takeaway, according to Steve: “”Teach your kids that most problems in this world are really opportunities in disguise, and innovation comes from discontent.”