My kids are smarter than me

I always assumed that my 6 and 7-year-old kids will start surpassing me in some cognitive ways much further down the road. What surprised me is how early it happened: at age 6.

A couple of weeks ago my 6-year-old son started to consistently beat me in the game Connect-4 (5 wins out of 5 games in our most recent match where I played as hard as I could). Connect-4 is a great game for kids where two players drop discs that fall into place on top of other discs with the goal of creating a sequence of 4 discs—horizontally, vertically, or diagonally. It is simple to learn and play, but unlike tic-tac-toe is highly non-trivial and is also fun for grown-ups. Whoever thinks more moves in advance typically wins. Games take 1–10 minutes—a short enough time for kids to stay focused.

I recently heard (on Facebook) a quote attributed to an old professor that every generation of Ph.D. students is worse than those who came before. But in fact, there are several studies that show that IQ scores are rising with each new generation. One article that discusses a book “Are We Getting Smarter? Rising IQ in the Twenty-First Century” states that in every nation where IQ is tracked, IQ scores have risen from one generation to the next (9 points every generation in the US with similar trends elsewhere).

There are several reasons: better ratio of children to adults in the family, longer formal education, and the fact that leisure time becomes more cognitive (using tablets, computers, etc.). Some may argue that IQ is not the best way to measure intelligence, but such arguments can be made about any alternative measure and in the absence of other measurements data, it is a reasonable proxy.

I think it is a very encouraging sign, and it makes sense to reconsider some of the traditional educational system. Can we start teaching some things earlier than they have traditionally been taught? For example, both of my kids started reading before age 5, while in my generation we started to learn the alphabet at age 6. There is a trend now of teaching children to write computer programs. Perhaps new technological advances in education and the rising IQ levels show that key learnings can happen earlier than previously thought.