Parenting: Bragging Rights

Parents see their children's achievements as a reflection of their own.

By Eilene Zimmerman, published on January 1, 2004 - last reviewed on September 6, 2007

There are trophy cars and trophy wives. And now trophy kids? In
suburban San Diego and in many other parts of the United States, the
latest marker of prestige is having a child admitted to the school
district's Gifted And Talented Education program, known in San
Diego as GATE.

The gifted label is an educational status symbol in certain
neighborhoods, says David Elkind, a professor of child development at
Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, and author of The Hurried
Child
. "In upper-middle-class communities, the label is really for
the parents, not the kids," he says. "The problem is that
parents push to have kids who should not be in such programs labeled
gifted."

Last spring at a second-grade birthday party in an
upper-middle-class, largely white San Diego suburb, parents talked openly
in front of their children about which students were admitted to GATE.
Pamela, a mother of two, said that competition over the GATE program is
palpable when parents congregate.

Jennifer, a 37-year-old mother of a first grader, admits that the
gifted label is important. "To a certain degree, I feel my
daughter's success as a student is a reflection on me and my
parenting." While standing outside the school recently, she
overheard mothers talking about which students were and were not in GATE.
"I felt panicked that these women knew so much about every
child," she says. Psychologist Ken Christian, founder of the
Maximum Potential Project, which is aimed at guiding gifted children in
suburban San Francisco, says many parents put enormous pressure on their
children: "Some will go to great lengths to prepare kids for these
tests." Gloria McMillan, director of San Diego City Schools'
GATE program, disagrees that competition is causing parents to go
overboard. "They simply want the best education they can get for
their children," she says.