Parenting a Gifted Child: Lessons from the Andraka Family

Is a hands-off approach the secret to raising a genius? 

If Steve and Jane Andraka have a parenting motto, it could be summarized as just don’t burn the house down. Their 15-year old son, Jack, recently won the grand prize at the Intel International Science Fair for his invention, a test which might detect early pancreatic cancer. This type of cancer is one of the most deadly and aggressive, in part because of the difficulty in detecting it when it’s still in an early stage.

Steve, a civil engineer, and Jane, a nurse, encouraged their two sons’ interest in science from an early age, and provided them with a science lab in the basement of their home. They put no limits on the experiments Jack and older brother, Luke, could conduct. The one rule? Just don’t burn the house down.

When Jack’s interest in a pancreatic cancer test outgrew his basement lab, requiring more sophisticated equipment and the help of cancer researchers, they made that happen for him too. Since Jack didn’t yet have a license, every day after school and on weekends, Jane drove him to and from a lab at Johns Hopkins University.

Jane and Steve Andraka may not be able to explain exactly how their son’s cancer test works, but they certainly deserve a good deal of credit for his accomplishments. Thanks to a parenting style that encouraged Jack to explore and expand his intellectual curiosity without limits, their son is already doing remarkable things, and making contributions to the world that could potentially save many, many lives.

On the effectiveness of this approach to raising a gifted child, 60 Minutes’ Morely Safer says: “I think they’re probably the ideal parents in a certain way. They’re hands-off until you need them.”

You can learn more about Jack’s work and his parents’ approach to raising him in this recent 60 Minutes segment.

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