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Precocious, per its definition, describes a child in a positive light. But in practice, many tend to use it in a negative way, and I feel the negative connotation outweighs the positive. So even when you say 'precocious talent', it sounds like you're saying it out of spite.

Here are some opinions online that echoes what I am saying:

So is there a word similar to precocious, which does not carry this negative connotation? To describe someone is acting 'beyond his/her age'?

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    I'm gonna go with the OED over your and your peers' opinions. The word simply means developing or maturing early. If it's said out of jealousy, then would reflect on the speaker, not the spoken about. Anyway, who's jealous of Mozart besides Salieri? – deadrat Jan 18 '16 at 5:23
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    @deadrat I don't quite get your reference, but the OED covers the denotation of the word, it doesn't really convey the connotations it now carries. – dayuloli Jan 18 '16 at 5:30
  • I have access to the print edition only, so the online lexicon may support your case for current usage, but if the word carried pejorative connotations earlier, I'm sure the OED would have noted that. Aside from the technical usages, you can find plenty of examples online of neutral usage. If by "reference" you mean Mozart, he is the canonical example of the precocious musical talent. – deadrat Jan 18 '16 at 5:41
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    IMO, in American usage at least, "precocious" is typically not used pejoratively. The opposite is typical, in fact. (Of course, any word can be used negatively for effect.) – Drew Jan 18 '16 at 6:14
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    It seems the more I read the more I feel in America it's used positively, but in the UK (where I'm originally from) it's used purely negatively. – dayuloli Jan 18 '16 at 6:33
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The current buzzword, adopted perhaps to counter the frequent derogation behind 'precocious', is 'gifted':

  1. Endowed with great natural ability, intelligence, or talent: a gifted child; a gifted pianist.

[gifted. (n.d.) American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. (2011). Retrieved January 18 2016 from http://www.thefreedictionary.com/gifted .]

This is not a precise match, as can be seen, because it does not carry the denotation of early maturity that 'precocious' does. That lack may be all to the good: early maturity is a mixed blessing at best.

In my experience, which has involved a lot of reading of British and American literature, as well as being frequently described while growing up as one of them, a precocious child, the use of 'precocious' is balanced between negative and positive connotations, with the scales tipped toward positive.

It seemed to me (note my bias) that the negative connotations arose from (a) a general and despicable confusion with 'precious', and (b) rank envy, which is misplaced. Early maturation in any area (intellectual, emotional, physical) is not often much less always to be envied.

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I agree with JEL's last sentence. Whether it connotes a negative meaning or not would mostly depend on the following noun or context. There seems to be no single word that has a similar meaning but the adjective mature:

(Especially of a young person) having reached a stage of mental or emotional development characteristic of an adult: 'a young man mature beyond his years'

As the example sentence of the dictionary shows, it would be better to put "for his/her age" or "beyond his/her years" after mature to make it clearer.

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I am surprised no one has suggested prodigy, which has positive connotations

(noun) a person, especially a child or young person, having extraordinary talent or ability

[Dictionary.com]

If you want to refer to children/kids below 10 years, you can say child prodigy. For a teenager, this would be teen prodigy.

This list of Child Prodigies is a great example of talents beyond their age and a dose of inspiration!

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