Gifted teens see the world differently.

What Parents Should Know About Gifted Teens

by Lisa Fritscher

Parenting any teen is a challenge, but parents of gifted teenagers might feel particularly overwhelmed. Although your child might look and speak like an adult, she is no less affected by the surge of hormones and rapidly changing expectations of adolescence than any other teenager. In fact, gifted teens sometimes experience the changes of adolescence more deeply due to their constant feeling that they are out of step with the world around them.

1. Asynchronous Development

Asynchronous development is virtually inevitable in gifted children, according to Mary-Elaine Jacobsen’s seminar for the Davidson Institute. This means that while they excel in some areas without even trying, their skills in other areas lag significantly behind — in some cases behind those of their age-graded peers. Gifted teens tend to have an inexhaustible supply of new interests and ideas, but lack the skills and knowledge necessary to bring many of their projects to fruition. Rather than recognizing that some skills take hard work to develop, they simply give up and move on to another idea, incorrectly deciding that because they couldn’t do the work instantly, they will never be able to do it. Asynchronous development is frustrating for parents as well as teens. Encourage your teenager to stick with projects that seem difficult and reward her for making an honest effort.

2. Existential Angst

While all teens struggle to carve out a personal identity, many gifted teens worry not only about themselves but about the state of humanity as a whole. In an article for Psychology Today, expert Elizabeth Donovan points out that gifted teens have an enhanced capacity for deep, complicated questioning. They feel immense pressure, both external and internal, to live up to the big dreams that everyone seems to have for them. They worry about whether they will be good enough and what role they will play in solving the crises of the world. Encourage your teen to identify his interests and pursue his passions, regardless of how mundane or lofty they appear. Let him know that you will be satisfied with whatever life path he chooses, and that you are confident in his ability to find his way.

3. Social Issues

All teens worry about their place in the social strata, but many gifted teens have years of experience with not fitting in. They tend to be exceptionally perceptive, highly attuned to the details of the world at large and prone to sensory overload. At a time in their lives when differences are often judged as wrong or distasteful, many gifted teens experience a very real disconnect from those around them. Mary-Elaine Jacobsen suggests that gifted teenagers need to practice letting go of stimuli that do not directly affect their lives — noting the intrusion and immediately moving on. In addition, she recommends that gifted teens let go of the expectation that other people think, feel and process in the same ways they do. Encourage your teen to develop a wide circle of friends and acquaintances, each of whom she can relate to in small ways, rather than expecting a deep connection with a single individual. However, she also points out that when a gifted teen does meet an intellectual peer, both the initial meeting and the resulting friendship are often exceptionally profound.

4. Perfectionism

Gifted teenagers are frequently their own worst critics. No matter how well they perform, they always feel that they could have done better. Elizabeth Donovan points out that gifted teens are acutely aware of their own flaws and limitations and often judge themselves based on how they think others perceive them. This puts them at risk for self-esteem issues, anxiety and depression. Some teens hold others to the same impossibly high standards they set for themselves, leading to friction in relationships. Encourage your teen to retain the positive aspects of perfectionism, such as goal-setting and striving, while letting go of the need to perform flawlessly. Help her practice cutting herself and others some slack.

About the Author

Lisa Fritscher is a freelance writer specializing in disabled adventure travel. She spent 15 years working for Central Florida theme parks and frequently travels with her disabled father. Fritscher's work can be found in both print and online mediums, including VisualTravelTours.com. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the University of South Florida.

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