Can DNA tests reveal your child’s hidden talents?

NICK EICHER, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: testing a child’s innate talent.

It’s big business in China and growing in popularity in the United States. One website selling this testing put it this way: you can have “normal parenting versus genetic leveraged parenting.”

It claims parents can groom their children according to the test results, knowing it’s the right path because it’s in their genes!

MARY REICHARD, HOST: But is it really possible to test for talent? And is it even a good idea to try?

WORLD Digital reporter Julie Borg wrote about this new trend and joins us now to talk about the potential pitfalls.

Julie, I understand parents in China are paying something like $2,500 for these tests. Tell me, how does it work?

JULIE BORG, REPORTER: Well, it’s pretty simple. Parents take a swab of the inside of their child’s cheek and then send the swabs in to biotech companies.  The DNA gets tested for hidden talents within the child’s genetic makeup.

REICHARD: What analysis for talent can a biotech company actually do?

BORG: Well, one company claims to test for more than 200 indicators. Those are things like physical talents, shyness, introversion, extroversion, and memory along with musical, mathematical and reading abilities.

REICHARD: Well, as a parent I think I know the answer to this. But what motivates parents to test for these things?

BORG: Well, China’s educational system is really competitive. Parents want to get their children every advantage possible. So they think for instance if the testing shows their child might be strong in musical ability, but not so much in athletics, then they’ll channel time and resources that way. They won’t waste time on trying to develop athletic skills. It’s a way, they think, to zero in on natural ability rather than trying to force the child into something he or she isn’t cut out for.

One middle school principal in China compared it to the way modern technology lets us find water hidden under the earth using satellite technology. We used to have to dig a well to see if there was water there and if not, dig somewhere else. But now we have satellites that  tell us exactly where to find water. In the same way, many parents put their children in a whole lot of activities to glean where their children might excel. So the idea with DNA testing is to pinpoint where a child’s strengths lie.

REICHARD: All parents I think want to give their children every advantage possible. So I presume this isn’t limited to China?

BORG: No, it’s also catching on in the United States.

REICHARD: But are these tests accurate?

BORG: No, and that’s the main problem. There is very little scientific evidence to support the accuracy of DNA talent testing. In fact, there is one biotech company in the United States that offers several different profiles parents can purchase. For $29.00 they will conduct what they call their “Superhero” test to assess strength, intelligence and speed. And for $99.00 they offer a child development profile that claims to asses everything from fitness and natural abilities for language and learning to behavior difficulties and sleep needs. Its ad tells parents they can learn if their child is just saying they aren’t tired because they don’t want to go to bed or if they are genetically wired to need less sleep. But NBC5 in Chicago conducted an investigation into these claims. They sent a swab they obtained from a Labrador retriever— named Bailey— in for the Superhero test and the company failed to detect that the sample wasn’t from a human.

The company sent back a report saying that Bailey was well suited for boxing and basketball and had the cardiac output for long endurance bike rides or runs.

REICHARD: Well, that’s quite a talented dog! Julie, what cautions or dangers might be associated with this kind of testing?

BORG: Well, aside from not getting much for their money, parents are taking risks when they start relying on inaccurate tests to tell them about their child. If a parent believes the test results, they might develop unrealistic expectations of their child. For example, let’s say the test shows their child has a musical aptitude when the child in fact doesn’t, the parents might assume the child just isn’t trying and may try to force them into doing something they aren’t capable of. Or, on the opposite side of the coin they might be convinced their child doesn’t have a particular ability and fail to encourage the child in that area when in fact the child could in fact excel. Or the child could grow up to believe they lack a certain ability when that isn’t the case at all. And, if children’s test results are known they might face subtle forms of stereotyping from coaches, schools, peers or others based on test results that are inaccurate.

REICHARD: Buyer beware! Julie Borg is a reporter for WORLD Digital. She writes a weekly roundup called Beginnings with stories like this one. Julie, thanks so much!

BORG: You’re welcome, Mary.

(Photo/iStock, wind-moon)

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