Being a teenager is not easy. Being a gifted teenager can be almost impossible. Planning and hard work on everyone’s part allow gifted students to build a great high school experience.
While you should encourage your gifted teen to take the most difficult college-preparation courses he or she can, academics must be balanced with extracurricular activities, sports, and community service. Summer programs and volunteer or employment opportunities can ignite a passion or give insight into career choices. High school is a time for dedicated study, but it is also a time to have fun. It should be challenging, but it should never be so intensive that it burns a student out.
Moreover, college-level coursework, extracurricular activities, sleep deprivation, and the common inability to fit neatly into a peer group can lead to depression in gifted children. The warning signs include
- problems in school,
- violent behavior or episodes,
- mood swings,
- risk taking,
- feelings of hopelessness or
- inordinate periods of isolation,
- drug or alcohol use,
- significant changes in eating and/or sleeping habits,
- an absence of joy or happiness, and
- talking or writing about death or suicide.
If you notice any of these signs, run—don’t walk—to get assistance.
Help your teen realize that not every teacher or administrator will understand how gifted teens think, work, and learn. Point out that, although some classes may not seem worth the time and effort, they may be required for graduation. Learning to play the high school game is vital—that means showing up and paying attention in class, turning in homework, taking exams, and trying not to make enemies of teachers. It doesn’t mean that you and your teen can’t work to improve a less-than-optimal situation. Valuable strategies learned in high school will also be needed in college.
Gifted teens can’t be expected to survive without assistance. Parents—be involved. Form active and constructive partnerships with your teen’s counselors, classroom and resource teachers, and principal. Be willing to help out when your school asks. If your district has a parent academic advocacy group, join it and be active in it. The more you know about your school and its faculty and staff, the better chance you have of helping your teen navigate through high school.
Starting the college search process early will also help your teen survive high school. The earlier college planning steps are accomplished, the less stressful the junior and senior years will be.
Being involved in his or her intellectual, social, and emotional life will ensure that your gifted teenager not only survives high school but also thrives there.
Jill F. VonGruben is the author of The College Countdown: The Parent’s and Student’s Survival Kit for the College Admissions Process (McGraw-Hill, 1999) and the parent of two college students. She has spent 20 years in an advocacy role in gifted education.