Tips for Parents: Surviving Your Gifted Teen
Webb, N.
Davidson Institute for Talent Development

This Tips for Parents article is from a seminar hosted by Nadia Webb, who discusses how a gifted child as a "tweener" becomes more manageable with age.

A gifted child who is challenging as a tweener may become easier with age. Their reasoning ability improves in adolescence, which means parent logic becomes less opaque to them. In addition, dual enrollment and academic acceleration includes a dose of social reality. Older teenagers will often confront them, bluntly, about some of the same obnoxious behaviors that you have. They start to realize that things like table manners aren’t a “weird Mom thing.” Surprisingly, no one wants to see them talk with their mouths open.

We build our friendships by affinity, not age. Gifted kids are more likely to have distinct friendship circles, each matching a very different aspect of their interests and personality. It is normal for them to blend into their different worlds; including shifting between a more adult persona and a childish side through out the day, particularly if they are dual enrolled or accelerated.

Disorganization shouldn’t be the barrier to academic acceleration. Often these kids can do the work well when it is short or structured but they bomb long, self-directed projects. Phenomenal intellects can coexist with mediocre executive functioning skills. Planning, judgment, self-monitoring, and organization are the last skills to mature developmentally. This is neurologically driven and appears to be true even in gifted kids. (In fact, there is some fMRI research suggesting that the area of the brain responsible for executive functioning may develop more slowly in the gifted.) This means s/he may need sub-deadlines for topic proposals, outlines, and drafts for big written projects. S/he may ace the tests, but only if s/he remember to bring the book home to study from. Issuing a second set of textbooks for home may prevent a little parental hair loss.

The problem with bad judgment is that you lack the judgment to know that you have bad judgment. The kids who most need the help with executive functioning tasks are often oblivious to it. They just leave wreckage behind and everyone else scrambles to fix the mess. This means they need even more structure, help, and maybe an evaluation of that frontal cortex.

Teens grow up at very different rates. If your teen shows no interest in dating and isn’t worried about it, it may not be on their mental horizon yet. When he starts making attempts to spruce up or you get a whiff of cologne as he heads to his room, you have crossed that bridge. Usually teenagers would rather eat grass than talk to you about things romantic. It is helpful to let your teen know you are open to talking about it and also to facilitate mentoring with other adults that you trust. S/he will often ask an aunt or family friend before discussing “it” with a parent. You can also buy books and leave them in his or her room. American Girls has great books for girls on puberty, on friendships and on boys for tweeners and young teens. Navigating the relationship part of relationships is often the part they are most confused by. They had family life education and know about “slot A and tab B” but not about the feelings and the process of forming and ending relationships. (We have all figured that out completely, right?)

Kids will pool their collective ignorance. And it is often impressively ignorant. Teaching one child accurate information has a powerful ripple effect.

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