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How a 14-Year-Old Genius Developed Genius Social Skills

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Read Time: 3 minutes

Just had to share this story of Mike Wimmer, a prodigy from North Carolina who just graduated college at age 14. He also runs two tech companies and is trying to figure out how to curb the population of invasive lionfish in the Caribbean and beyond.

Busy guy.

But what makes Mike a Let Grow blog post (lucky him!) is not his intellectual or business prowess. It’s his ability to get along with fellow 14-year-olds AND college students AND investors. As his mom Melissa told CNBC:

I’ll be honest, people expect ‘Young Sheldon’ before they meet Mike.

— Melissa Wimmer

Encouraging mixed-age friendships.

Sheldon, Mike is not. That is due at least in part to the way his parents raised him. They allowed Mike to be surrounded by people of all ages, and to speak for himself in all sorts of social situations. Granted, this isn’t easy for everyone. (Or anyone!) But they encouraged mixed-age friendships. And that is one of Let Grow Co-Founder Dr. Peter Gray’s absolute bedrocks: Kids need mixed-age play.

I witnessed this out my window this weekend. In the courtyard, a 2-year-old was toddling after a gaggle of elementary school-aged kids. When the little girl would drop her ball, a boy of about age 6 would pick it up and hand it to her — over and over. The girl was delighted and the boy did not look put out. He looked matter-of-fact. He was developing empathy without even realizing it.

Age segregation is weird and new.

This is a blind spot in today’s culture. While we abhor any other kind of segregation, we think of age segregation as natural. You don’t have an all-ages soccer team! You have the 7-year-olds at 11 a.m. and the 8-year-olds at noon.

Mike gets asked…‘How did you get so social?’ It’s just exposing him — like letting him order food when he’s 3 or 4 from the waiter or waitress. And introducing himself to people. Those kinds of things, just getting him where he feels natural talking to others.

— Melissa Wimmer

A study of mixed-age childhood friendships.

So if you want to raise a genius by 14. Or at least a kid who feels more comfortable in the world, don’t buy into the idea that a young kid around older kids will be bullied. Or that an older kid interacting with young ones will be socially or intellectually stunted.

Kids are hardwired to grow up interacting with a wide swath of ages. This 2010 study of high school students who had friends in different grades found that adolescents with mixed age friendships:

…reported less loneliness than other adolescents. Results also suggested that mixed-grade friends may protect same-grade friendless girls from feelings of loneliness, and eighth grade same-grade friendless adolescents and anxious-withdrawn boys from victimization.

— Julie C Bowker  and Sarah V Spencer

When I was in high school my next door neighbor came home from her far-away college and enrolled locally. We were five years apart but had so much fun together. We are friends to this day!

How to get ages mixing at school, camp, and beyond:

If you’d like to see more social-emotional growth at your school, consider starting a LET GROW PLAY CLUB — a no-electronics, no-adult-organized-games, before-or-after-school (or camp) time for MIXED AGES to play together. Our Implementation Guide is free! Click here to get it! And here’s an “at-home” version for the summer! Down with age segregation!


  1. AmberAmber says:

    Sounds like me except for the genius part! As a teenager I was either babysitting babies and kids, or helping the elderly on my neighborhood. Now I work as a caregiver for the elderly these days.

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