In my earlier post Giftedness: A Curse or a Blessing? I tried to cover the double-edged sword of being the parent of a child who does not fit the norms due to a mind that races ahead, grasping knowledge or concepts earlier than most kids his or her age.
If, like me, your only or first child fit this profile, you probably had no idea that other toddlers or school-aged kids were any different from your own until teachers and others began to point it out. It is then that you may have realized that the average public school setting may not offer the kinds of advancement for or interest in a child who skates through academic subjects, some becoming patently bored and acting out, and others withdrawing into their own worlds in order to entertain themselves.
In Upworthy’s article, What can we learn from letting seventh graders take the SAT, psychologist Julian Stanley’s 1960s study points out that if you took the best and brightest middle schoolers from around the country and had them take college entrance exams, those kids would score, on average, about the same as the typical college-bound senior. The ones who scored better, however, had aptitudes for things like logic, spatial, and quantitative reasoning on steroids. By the '70s, Stanley’s team launched a full-scale study of gifted kids and tracked them throughout their lives -- just the kind of information parents salivate over in order to see how our own “different” kids fare(d) compared to others like them.
Findings of the study urge parents and educators to dash the “gifted” stereotype. Don't give in to the belief that overstimulating smart kids too early might cause burnout because that is not what was found. After Stanley passed his work on to David Lubinski upon Stanley’s death in the mid-2000s, he discovered that no matter how smart the kid, he or she needs constant direction and mentoring. He also found the idea that sharp children will always find a way to excel also to be a myth. “They’re kids,” says Lubinski. “They need guidance. We all need guidance.” So if your child’s teachers pay an inordinate amount of attention to those in class who need to catch up to grade level while letting your own child go on auto-pilot, it’s a good idea to discuss what might be done to keep your child engaged, whether at school or at home. Above all, don’t let educators treat this as a “good problem.” Why? I don’t mean to scare you (and I am no expert), but think about how high IQs are found not only among academic geniuses but among criminals and the homeless as well.
Lubinski says there is no mistake about it: intelligence is not the same as passion. My daughter, who was thrown into a number of “gifted and talented” programs, could hold her own and excel in a number of academic subjects. But her interest in most of them covered the spectrum from slightly interested to loud thud. She excelled at writing (making this mom-scribe jump with joy), but did not embrace that as a passion until her late 20s; just because your child is a whiz at math or science doesn’t mean their true interests lie there.
"There are all kinds of ways to express intellectual talent," Lubinski says. “When it comes to doing what's best for a gifted student, it's just as important for parents and educators to know what the student is passionate about rather than pigeonholing them in traditionally ‘smart’ fields and registering them in a bunch of STEM courses.” A good analogy is the kid on the soccer field who is fleet of foot, makes goals under some of the most challenging circumstances, but must be cajoled into going to practice or taking their physical talents further. While it’s fun to get the recognition for being good at something, that something may not hold any fascination for them.
MindShift’s Ingfei Chen covers how gifted children now have a wealth of opportunities available to them online, a place where many dwell for hour upon hour anyway. “Sating the voracious curiosity of gifted students can be challenging,” she says. “They may get bored and cranky when they easily grasp lessons ahead of the group in a standard classroom.” Chen takes the example of a 7-year-old who attended a Berkeley, CA public school. “When he found the pace of his math class unbearably slow, he protested by gluing together two months’ worth of his math worksheets. Given a new packet of them, he 'filled out all the answers, and then folded each sheet into paper airplanes,' his mother said. I can totally relate. My daughter found creative ways to stave off boredom by getting negative attention in class, resulting in groundings that felt never-ending at home.
Chen goes on to say the high-achieving students are generally underserved here in the U.S., according to a survey by the National Association for Gifted Children. She cites how there is no systematic way of addressing the needs of the gifted. For that reason, the amount of time a parent spends trying to fill this gap may be equivalent to the amount of time they may spend with a special needs child. “In the case of the young Berkeley protester, who was reading at a fifth-grade level by age four," Chen says, "his mom admits she spends a lot of time trying to keep up with his interests and voracious reading habit" as well as how she and her son did elaborately creative projects together.
Of course, it’s great if parents have both the time and money to devote to their gifted child’s existence so that they are constantly stimulated and moving forward. But what about the underprivileged family, the single parent, or the working couple? We return again to Lubinsky’s study and his observations. “To people more worried about kids who are falling through the cracks altogether, doing slightly less than we could for the most gifted might not seem like a pressing problem. But if the study is right that exceptional youthful ability really does correlate directly with exceptional adult achievement, then these talented young kids aren’t just a challenge for schools and parents: they’re also demonstrably important to America’s future. And it means that if in education, we focus on steering all extra money and attention toward kids who are struggling academically, or even just to the average student, we risk shortchanging the country in a different way.”