Health & Fitness

Why children act above their ages


“I have witnessed an eight-year-old child whose behaviour looks way mature for his age. His comments and questions don’t match his age, is he normal?”

A slightly different way of putting your question is “are all eight year old children the same? If not, are those that are different abnormal, and if so, in what respect are they abnormal”?

At the slightly older age of 12 years, Jesus (Luke 2:41-52) was lost from his parents for three days, following a visit to Jerusalem. Like the child you saw, verse 46 states “After three days, they found him in the Temple Courts sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions…. Everyone (like you perhaps) who heard him was amazed at his understanding and answers”.

Does this story sound like what you went through with the eight- year -old?

We studied paediatrics in our fourth year of medical school, and that was when I saw the first (and last) case of progeria. This is an extremely rare and genetic condition in, which a child begins to show features of ageing from the age of 9-24 months! Few live to be teenagers and soon die from complications such as heart disease, stroke or hip dislocations.

Like old people do, such children lose their hair. As teenagers, their skins wrinkle and again like old people do, their muscles degenerate, their joints become stiff before early death. This rather long scary story is intended to paint the picture of how complex biological phenomenon can be. This is a story of death at the age of 13, from old age!

At the other extreme of the same example is the so called precocious child. An example of this is of the child who is so far ahead of his time that he is able to join university at the age of 15. The word precocious comes from praecox, which means to ripen early. Jesus and the eight year old child you ask about could fall in this category. That, however, is the simple side of your question. Things get more complex as one deals with these concepts.

Sexual precocity is a major item of discussion among medical workers in the fields of mental health and Aids research. A study in 2001 for example looked at the difference between French and Congolese high school students. It established that Congolese children engaged in sexual activities much earlier than their French counterparts. This had very important implications on how to package the Aids prevention message.

It did also raise the question as to what led the Congolese children to early sex. Was it their genes or was it the environment they were brought up in. In the case of the child that you saw, was it environmental or genetic? What was his / her genetic heritage and what of the environmental factors? Other areas of precocity exist and are often spoken about. Some children show exceptional skills in mathematics, others in language, others hit the world of sports like thunderbolts.

The other tragic irony of the situation such as you describe is that a child might be brilliant in mathematics but completely hopeless in other subjects like language, history or geography. Such a child will frustrate both himself and his family and teachers who argue (wrongly) that if you can do math so well, you should also be good in English or History.

A few years ago, we saw a 12- year -old boy who had the Savant Syndrome, which is a mental affliction in which he had significant disability and was experiencing much distress at school. Like other children with his condition, he had exceptional memory skills.

He had studied all types and makes of aeroplanes that had ever been made. Mention for example the Harrier jet,and he would tell you of the first year of manufacture, wing span, range in miles and its payload. He knew how many went to the Falklands War and how many were felled. In a similar vein he knew much about planes in the Second World War. He had a computer type database on everything to do with aeroplanes, but nothing else. Another boy had similar memory for trains and their timetables in the UK!

Their problem was Standard 2 Math and English. Is your child like this one?