Adolescence is a prickly time for most teens but for the gifted child there are many factors that come into play that are crucial to understand in order to make these years flow smoothly.
Gifted teens work best when they can be around a diverse community of intellectual peers on a regular basis. This leads them into a sense of communion with themselves as individuals because they can see a wide variety of people rather than just a specific group to which to conform. The nature of high school and typical teen peer groups to lump people together due to age or interest can often make the gifted child feel like they don’t fit in.
Gifted teens tend to excel in certain areas and the praise and validation around these accomplishments (when they have shown effort) is necessary to counteract their already innate feelings of being different. But in the high school environment, some teachers and authority figures may go out of their way to make all of the youth feel equal and not point out individual achievements.
Teens often judge their peers on things like clothing, trends, and behavior. On the contrary, gifted teens tend to flaunt their individuality, being highly in tune with their inner life, which may make them feel even more outside the accepted school circles.
A gifted child may become depressed when dealing with the social pressures or academic expectations -- or, on the other end of the spectrum be labeled over-confident or self-important -- when they are just trying to be recognized as valued individuals.
Here are some ideas that can help improve these conditions for the gifted teen:
- Seek opportunities to provide interaction with intellectual peers, not necessarily age peers, such as chess club, multi-grade extracurricular offerings, or enrichment classes. Encourage your child to get to know others from all grades on campus. Encourage your child to be his or herself while also addressing needs for guidance and boundaries.
- Keep an eye on the areas where your child is excelling or lagging behind and be willing to tackle each when it occurs with praise (when earned) or solutions.
- Allow your child to take risks and even make mistakes out in the "real world" so that they have the ability to grow and mature.
- Provide opportunities to for the child to interact with mentors and like-minded peers.
- Provide opportunities for the child to express personal responsibility and decision-making.
- Create a schedule that combines required subjects with interesting, after school activities that your child specifically likes.
Finding supportive relationships at this stage of development can help enhance a teen's self-understanding and make them feel more integrated with their community. Ultimately, acknowledging and empowering a teen to find and then fully embody their true self can make all the difference between a successful or difficult teenage experience.
Dr. Dan Peters, Ph.D., is co-founder of the Summit Center (http://summitcenter.us/), which provides psychological and educational assessments and counseling for children and adolescents, specializing in the gifted, creative, and twice-exceptional.