Interestingly, students who are gifted may face many of the same stresses as do teens with learning deficits. In fact, they experience more anxiety and depression than all other social groups of youngsters, while boys and girls with genius-level IQs are at extremely high risk of abusing drugs.
It’s really not all that surprising. Intelligence is not as valued during adolescence as it is later in life, which can set these youngsters apart from their peers. Their social skills may be stunted, and not just because they’re isolated: Extremely bright children sometimes expend so much energy cultivating their intellect, they neglect their “emotional intelligence.” Then there’s the practical matter of being out of the social loop much of the time; youngsters who are gifted spend an average of thirteen hours a week honing their talent. Other children who are gifted may have such advanced social skills that they relate better to adults than to their peers.
Parallels between gifted students and those who are learning disabled don’t end there. Their potential, as measured by intelligence tests, doesn’t always lead to school success, much to their parents’ dismay. One reason may be that these youngsters are bored, their curiosity and imaginations untapped; or, desperate to fit in, they may deliberately sabotage their academic success. They’ll act dumb, pretend to be stumped by teachers’ questions in class and so forth.
If that describes your youngster, you have a right to be concerned. There are a number of ways parents can help a child who is gifted, both at home and at school, such as:
Demand that advanced placement classes be made available in high school, to keep gifted boys and girls stimulated intellectually and to let them get a jump on racking up college-level credits.
Investigate after-school or weekend enrichment programs, either at your child’s school or perhaps at a local community college.
Find him a mentoring or tutoring program, in which he assists and befriends younger students who need help with their schoolwork.
Stock your bookshelves at home with reading material that will both challenge and entertain him.
Request that the school district test your child for giftedness. Although children who are gifted do not have protection under federal law as do students with learning disabilities, most states have some form of legislation to serve gifted youngsters. If a school district refuses to assess a child presumed to be gifted, or parents are dissatisfied with the academic program for their son or daughter, they may have their case heard by an impartial hearing officer, in much the same way that parents of learning-disabled children can challenge decisions made regarding an IEP (individualized education plan).
As proud as you are of your child’s giftedness, never lose sight of the fact that teens need to have friends and to feel reasonably accepted by their peers. At the same time, encourage her love of learning. Remind her that with the start of college, she’ll be entering a world where being smart isn’t equated with being a dweeb—it’s considered cool!