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12-year-old author: Don't say 'childish'

By John D. Sutter, CNN
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Child prodigy: Kids can change the world
  • Adora Svitak is a 12-year-old published author and child prodigy
  • She says adults need to stop using the world 'childish,' or at least redefine it
  • Adults need to recognize the creative and intellectual power of younger people, she says
  • Svitak spoke with CNN at the TED Conference in February

(CNN) -- Adora Svitak, a 12-year-old author, is on a quest to redefine the word "childish."

"For kids like me, being called childish can be a frequent occurrence," she said in a speech at the TED2010 conference in February in California.

"Every time we make irrational demands, exhibit irresponsible behavior, or display any other signs of being normal American citizens, we are called childish."

Svitak, a bubbly kid who wears cropped hair and glasses that slide midway down her nose, says that's unfair.

Adults have a sordid legacy of colonialism, imperialism and world wars, she says. But kids? Well there are some cool kids in history. Ever heard of Anne Frank, whose diary chronicled the Holocaust? Or Ruby Bridges, who helped bring about civil rights for African-Americans?

"As you can see from these examples, age has absolutely nothing to do with it," she said in the short talk.

"The traits the word 'childish' addresses are seen so often in adults that we should abolish this age-discriminatory word when it comes to criticizing behavior associated with irresponsibility and irrational thinking."

It would be easy to see how an accomplished kid like Svitak wouldn't take well to being called "childish." She published her first book, "Flying Fingers," at age 7, writes a blog and poetry, and speaks to kids in schools all over the world.

In an interview with following her talk at a conference sponsored by TED, a nonprofit group dedicated to "ideas worth spreading," Svitak said adults should place more value on kids' ability to think freely.

Watch Svitak's talk at the TED conference

She said kids have the power to change the world.

"I would say that kids are great in many ways, because I think that we are less hampered when it comes to 'this costs too much' or 'that's impossible,' " she said.

Adults should have high expectations for kids, she said.

"I think it's important not to take that 'normal kid' image for granted," she said.

"You have to think, looking at a kid, 'This might be someone who will win the Nobel Peace Prize someday,' or 'That might be someone who has already published a book.' "

Plus, she said, kids may be able to teach adults a thing or two.

"Make sure that your kids or the kids in your life have an opportunity to share their ideas, and to teach you something about what we know," she said.