One of my favorite quotes is from English author George Eliot: “It’s never too late to be who you might have been.” It seems this truth is especially appropriate for gifted kids and teens who are said to be “underachieving” when they don’t meet a level of expectation that others expect them to reach. But consider these questions:
* where does “underachievement” end and achievement begin? Is a grade of “B” low enough to qualify a gifted student as underachieving? Could a grade of “C-” be considered “achievement” because it is still a passing grade?
* the term “underachievement” is often applied to a child in his/her entirety, as in “My son/daughter is an underachiever.” But does said child really underachieve in every domain, or just in selected ones?
* The usual knee-jerk response to teenage underachievement is to take away what the adolescents love to do until they begin to achieve again. But how often does this actually work? And if it doesn’t work, why not?
These and other issues are the main reasons that underachievement remains a conundrum for teachers, parents and the so-called “underachievers” themselves. So, to try to get our collective heads and hands around this issue, here are some important considerations to remember…and a few suggestions for addressing this quandary:
So, are there any solutions that always work to resolve underachievement? Sorry…no (kids are too unique for a one-size-fits-all approach to work.) However, in my 33 years of working with underachievement as a teacher and counselor, I find that the following ideas work more often than not.
Above all else, parents and teachers (but parents, especially) need to remember that a short-term gain in achievement is not worth the price of a long-term dissolution of the adult-child relationship. Sometimes, this means stepping back, as a parent; other times it means listening to your parent not as a critic, but as a partner in problem solving. If this ongoing conundrum of underachievement gets resolved successfully, it is because all parties involved perceive they have a stake in the situation.
“It’s never too late to be who you might have been.”—how true this is for all of us, including those so-called “underachievers” who simply want their intellects and their interests to be taken seriously.
Coming in 2018, from Free Spirit Publishing in collaboration with ASCD, the book, Doing Poorly on Purpose: Strategies to Reverse Underachievement and Respect Student Dignity, by Jim Delisle.
Jim Delisle is a retired professor and teacher. The author of 16 books and more than 250 articles, Jim’s focus is on making school and life relevant and enjoyable for gifted children and adolescents.
This article is provided as a service of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to supporting profoundly gifted young people 18 and under. To learn more about the Davidson Institute’s programs, please visit www.DavidsonGifted.org.
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