Tips for Parents: Adolescence and the HG/PG Individual
Schultz, R.
Davidson Institute for Talent Development

This Tips for Parents article is from a seminar hosted by Robert Schultz, in which he offers insight and parenting strategies appropriate for profoundly and highly gifted teenagers.

Life is all about challenges. And, one of the most challenging times in life is when your child enters the “becoming” stage of adolescence. In this Tip for Parents article, Dr. Robert A. Schultz covers a few of the topics discussed during a recent Bulletin Board seminar (2006) on Adolescence and HG/PG individuals.

    How much of teen behavior is actually hormonal? I like to think a lot of it is, but then again, I confess that I act that way when I have "cabin fever" and don't feel like I have any space or meaningful activity. Calling it hormones seems like such an easy fall-guy with no real ideas about what can be done to ease the distress for all involved.

    Ceci, Bulletin Board Participant

We live in a society quick to label, medicate and/or explain away. Hormones do contribute a lot of angst for teens. But, the majority of this stems from biological changes that cause very overt notice by others (like when hair grows in weird places; sweat and other glands start secreting substances they didn't before; or body parts begin growing at varying paces). When you begin looking, smelling, and sounding different there is quick notice by others.

Hormones do contribute a part. But, there are other factors: the developing sense of personal identity leading to a need to fit in with a group or groups; a growing sense of Wanderlust leading adolescents to need to explore greater boundaries away from the safety of home; and, growing confidence in physical abilities which leads to risk taking.

Life is complex; and, overly simplifying it or blaming it on one thing or another isn't providing the needed focus to help anyone really understand what is going on. Teens need to understand; and, often search out answers from people who seem to know and care about what is going on—their peers!—which can lead them into problematic situations.

    Our 9 year old 6th grader is proud of doing well, but he speaks about it in this fake self-deprecating way that drives me crazy. Then when he does get something wrong and we point it out (ie helping him with math homework since he's doing 7th grade homework without any school instruction), he gets furious, cries, screams, and storms out of the room. Is this adolescence? Of course, there are occasional days when he is completely reasonable and friendly and seems appreciative of our help. Rare, but sometimes. Baffling!

    Mark, Bulletin Board Participant

Adolescence? Partly—but also internal frustration boiling over. Your son likely has not had much difficulty with subjects in his recent past (for you a short time; for him, his entire life!). When he reaches a point where what always worked in the past doesn't; he is at a loss for what to do. His internal expectation is that he should know it; and be able to understand. But, since he is now in unknown territory he resorts back to a more primordial state (think cave man).

What to do:

    1) Affirm your love for him as a person; and, let him know that his behavior is not acceptable. Then, share a situation where you (dad and mom) faced a similar result....totally clueless as to what to do; and how you made out based on your actions.

    2) Let him know it is okay to blow off some steam; and that when he is done, he should come back to you and together you'll work on figuring out what some options are that might help

    a. talk to the teacher to ask what he can be doing to better understand the work.

    b. get together with a friend and work on the assignments together to support one another.

    c. zip around the internet with him searching for solutions or ways of doing the problems that can give some insights regarding what to do.

On Pessimism
Pessimism is a very normal and natural part of adolescence. As a teen begins turning mentally inward; (s)he realizes the environment and surrounding social "noise" are pretty inconsequential. For HG/PG kids, the depth of realization of this situation is extreme; leading to an outlook on life that is somewhat dark.

During this time, (s)he begins exploring and testing various ways of being and doing things out of the typical (drab) routine that life seems to have become. To a large degree, HG/PG teen years are a constantly replaying series of uninteresting factoids and requirements for too-easy performance that don't stretch the mind or address the needs of the soul to know the meaning of life. (And this is really what this pessimism is all about--the essential question about being; the meaning of life).

Some HG/PG kids get caught up in a deep depression; infolding on themselves. Others turn this need to understand the self into more productive avenues; like involvement in the community where lending a helping hand, or advocating for changes lead to positive outcomes.

Meet the pessimism head on. Take on a local community project and get involved. Drag your teen with you as an equal participant and share the experience together. Helping others is a wonderful way to change the deepening inner focus to an outward extension of meaningfulness in the service of others.

On Stress—Internal/External Expectation Barometers
Often parents unwittingly signal high expectations for their children; or, more often model super high expectations for themselves that their kids can't help but observe and experience on a daily basis. Think about it, how many times have you “beat yourself up” over a less-than stellar performance; or a simple mistake that you just “can’t let go”?

Just by living in proximity, we learn a lot about individual tendencies and with HG/PG kids, who want to please us and be loved, it is pretty common for them to pick up on our personal high expectations. They internalize the high standards we try to live by; and, begin to strive to be best of the best. This can lead to perfectionism (an unhealthy focus on performance that is either absolute best, or a failure) and a lot of personal stress. Perfectionists tend to work to please others and tend to care more about doing this than what their internal needs really are.

The two strands of stress can be a major difficulty in the life of a HG/PG individual. First, a HG/PG teen has expectations about her abilities that probably range pretty high. She likely is constantly comparing her performance to what she expects to earn (most likely highest marks). And, if anything falls short of this internal gauge, it is a sign of personal failure. This is common for HG/PG kids. Second, a HG/PG teen also has perceptions about what others expect from her (remember, these are perceived and not necessarily real!). These perceptions demand from her a certain level of performance based on comparisons with other people. (Again, quite common for PG kids).

In essence, there is an internal barometer of expected performance; and, an external barometer of expected performance. When these get out of sync (like when a HG/PG individual earns a B; and a parent says, “That’s okay.” a lot of inner turmoil occurs. This is often due to the innate ability of the ticker-tape-parade mind of a HG/PG teen to “overanalyze” the situation. She knows she didn't match her internal expectations; and, in some ways perceives the parent is just trying to appease her. And, that the parents are more likely somewhat disappointed she was unable to perform at optimum levels.
What do you do?
Have a party. Celebrate her B. Get a cake; toss some confetti and really celebrate in a playful way. Tell her it was bound to happen sooner or later; and you've really been waiting for the moment to show her you care more about her as a person than the grades she earns or gets in a course.

This is playful; and somewhat corny—especially from a teen's eyes—but does make a point. During the party, you can reminisce about your first B (or even F!) and how it really didn't matter in the grand scheme of life. Invite others to do the same. In this setting, your HG/PG teen will gain a new perception about your view of her that will help her not only feel better about moving on; but, also connect to you in a closer way. After all, you both now share "an adversity" and have come through better people.

On DITD and the Reality of HG/PG Life

    “People only see what they are prepared to see”
    Walt Whitman

One of the most important "things" that DITD provides is a safe place for families to share experiences, get insights, but most importantly connect with others dealing with similar issues. I'm not sure if it goes: Misery loves company; or, two heads are better than one when it comes to HG/PG life.

In any event, most people (statistically a huge majority...something like 96% of the general population) have no clue what issues your kids and you face. So, no matter how many times you say, yell, write, etc.—it might as well be a foreign language to most others.

One of the major faux pas most HG/PG kids face is an almost total lack of knowledge about groups beyond their level (either up or down). They tend to be treated as if they were older and wiser; and are able to somewhat "fudge it." But when it comes to a point where assistance is needed, the HG/PG tween often isn't able to socially connect.

Classrooms are pressure cooker situations due to the inability of kids to gain space and a sense of place for themselves. They are constantly bumping into one another; all under the watchful and often rule-laden guise of the adult in the setting.

Preteen age girls (especially those who have been accelerated) face grueling peer pressure; often setting them up for "failure" due to circumstances well beyond their control (like the biological impacts I noted earlier).

Keeping a solid line of communication open is essential; and, a friend outside of the classroom (and school...even better!) is almost a must for accelerated tweens (boys or girls!). A great concern I have is that many HG/PG kids are treated by adults as if they are chronologically much older due to their “mature” vocabulary and well-defined intellects. Hand in hand with this assumption is that they (the kids) have the emotional and social wherewithal to adequately express themselves.

Reality is that a highly advanced intellect isn't often connected with a highly advanced and balanced bank of emotions. We learn through experience, and PG kids are often accelerated to a point they pass by the experiences needed to hone their social/emotional skills. We as parents and professionals owe it to HG/PG kids to teach them social graces so they have some strategies to put into play should they find themselves in a bewildering and frustrating situation.

This also includes teaching HG/PG kids how to talk to adults while reading facial and posture cues so they can realize when their more-than-to-the-point analysis might not necessarily be the best route to take with an adult.

This is why we need to take time to teach HG/PG teens how to evaluate a situation before commenting or responding; and, celebrate life's events. Our society lives and breathes by economic standards; and, quite literally, per capita spending. We get caught up in the hype that blasts into our lives on a daily basis through the media and all the technological wizardry that impinges on our lives.

We need to take some time to enjoy the state of living; or, being alive without constantly focusing on the next acquisition, purchase or deal to be made. No doubt, there is a time and place for this thinking (it's called providing for one's family); but, we also need to take time to immerse ourselves in celebrations of being alive. In lots of ways, perfectionism comes from a harried pace, or being caught in the rat race. But, as Lilly Tomlin once said, "Even if you win the rat're still a rat!"

Sage words. Try to find some time to celebrate the little things (like a full moon; a starry sky; finding animals in the clouds; getting a speeding ticket because you were way too stressed today; or even a D- on a test/paper/report card. It's all about some an A- is failing; to others, a D- is still passing!

On Underachievement
Underachievement is in the eye of the beholder....I think Jim Delisle said this first; and I wholeheartedly agree. Underachievement is a label affixed to an individual from the outside (externally imposed). It really doesn't become internalized by most kids until around the 4/5th grade level when their internal sense of self begins growing by leaps and bounds.

You can't fix underachievement. You can only stop imposing the "label" on the child; and begin dealing with issues in ways that everyone can better understand what is going on. For instance:

I never let kids (little or big) get away with using this word as a descriptor for anything. I can't fix boring if I don't know what it means. It might mean any of the following (or more): too hard, too easy, too stressful, too timeconsuming; too much like busy work; irrelevant to my life; uninteresting to me; way too risky; out of my known comfort zone; etc.).

Now, if I am able to get a more descript understanding of the situation I can (as a parent) request a pow-wow with the teacher to address the situation. As a teacher, I hear "boring" all the time (and typically equate it with....lazy, unmotivated student) instead of attaching it to my teaching or delivery of content (pace or style). So, knowing the real gist of the situation provides everyone with information useful for making changes in the environment.

On Choice (and Failure)
Stepping back and letting offspring fall flat on their faces might be a form of tough love; but, I'm against it. I prefer a more humane approach. Something along the lines of making myself available as a consultant to the child in a nonjudgmental manner. The below is "stolen" from the other strand I just responded to tonight, but fits here as well:

Life Saver Status
This means you are in plain sight (so to speak) and available in case an emergency pops up—and your son/daughter is not afraid to "toss you into" the situation for guidance. Some will BE emergencies in anyone's eyes (hopefully few of these arise!); others will be emergencies in your kid's eyes (much more manageable for you!).
You can't judge; but you can provide statements like: "Have you thought about....." or "That's a tough situation, let's see if we can come up with some possible solutions...."
Working to develop the communication and trust is a continuous process; most often built upon a caring relationship where you remain steadfast in your resistance to judging or acting as a sage (e.g., "This is what you are going to do!...." or, "That was a poor decision...."). No one feels good about failing. So, being available to help guide (rather than tell) is important from the point of view of the child/teen. It respects and honors the growing sense of self; while also letting him/her know you are available and supportive.

Two things to remember as you move forward:

    1) Keep talking to your HG/PG teen, your family, other HG/PG families, and your Davidson Institute contacts. An open line of communication is most important to get information, strategies, and a compassionate ear to listen to your concerns and provide possibilities to address issues as they arise.

    2) Cherish every moment you have with your teen. The peaks and valleys of growing up gifted are accentuated in your child(ren). The low times are balanced out and offset by the highest, high times. Focus on these and take time to laugh, play and celebrate together.

The appearance of any information in the Davidson Institute's Database does not imply an endorsement by, or any affiliation with, the Davidson Institute. All information presented is for informational purposes only and is solely the opinion of and the responsibility of the author. Although reasonable effort is made to present accurate information, the Davidson Institute makes no guarantees of any kind, including as to accuracy or completeness. Use of such information is at the sole risk of the reader.

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