Gifted education has been circulating the country since the 19th century and has been glorified ever since for giving accelerated students a new environment to succeed in. Every year the program gains a new advantage somewhere, whether it is an amazing teacher, new lesson plan, or an improved approach to a standard. However, every year gifted education introduces problems to its students that may never go away. Children of all ages are looked upon differently because of their academic status, leading to perfectionism, unrealistic expectations, control issues, a negative self-concept, and burnout just to name a few.
How does this happen? What should I do if I know someone struggling with one of these problems? This article will address both of these questions with input from real teens in the gifted program at their schools.
Perfectionism seems like a common, normal trait for someone who wants all of their work to look…well.. perfect. There is nothing wrong about having this kind of mindset since it does no harm, but it starts to raise concern when it begins becoming obsessive. Perfectionism is a common trait among gifted students shown in and out of their school work and can appear as competitiveness, prioritizing achievement over socializing, or keeping away from activities they may not be good or “the best” at. These personal restrictions are usually related to those around the student who expects them to be high-achieving in every aspect of the child’s life. The high standards can result in stress weighing down the student and/or worsening the perfectionism already present in the child’s behavior, both being unhealthy behaviors.
VOX ATL: How does being a perfectionist negatively impact you?
“I am currently a perfectionist, and I find it hard to get something done or even have the motivation to start it. When I know I can’t get it to 100% when I haven’t even started, it makes me disinterested and I avoid it. Or even with finishing tasks, I feel the same. When I do finish something but it’s not how I want it, it makes me frustrated and I look negatively on myself.”- Brooke Slone, 17, Tucker High School
“It negatively impacts me by causing me to stress over little things and never be able to be happy about my successes.” – Ellis Schroder, 15, Druid Hills High School
VOX ATL: How would you like someone to react/help you if they discovered your struggles with perfectionism?
“If someone did find [out] about my perfectionism, I would want them to tell me things that I would be telling myself like ‘It’s okay’ for example so I could hear it from an outside source and not from me. Just someone telling me it’s okay and it’s okay to slow down is something I’d prefer to hear.”- Mekayla Cordovez, 14, Cross Keys High School
“I just want them to be there for me, to help me if they think they can. Honestly; just not do much and let me do what I need to do.”- Brooke Slone
Over the Moon Expectations
When students become gifted, it is not uncommon for them to receive the label of “smartest kids in school” by not only their peers, but also teachers and students. People expect them to receive all A’s, excel in every and all activities, be able to understand every concept with only one explanation, and the list of unrealistic expectations goes on and on. For parents, when they learn their child is gifted, they think that it is now easy for the student to complete and understand their work. But in reality, this mindset will just end up pushing the kid away and cause them to become extremely independent on most, if not all, assignments. In a teacher’s case, the Gifted and Talented Program is for children who are academically above their peers, so the instructor tends to focus on the general students because they are considered to need more help. This leads to a break in future student-teacher relationships which tend to be hard to mend, especially as time continues. Although, the worst thing that could happen is that the student could develop this high expectations mindset for themselves. Once these thoughts take over, it is extremely difficult to learn that you do not have to achieve unrealistic goals in exchange for their own physical and mental well-being.
VOX ATL: How does others having impossible expectations for you negatively impact you?
“It makes me feel like I have no time for any self reflection or recharging, making me anxious when I feel like I’m not doing anything.”- Ryan Stinson, 18, Abingdon High School
“Coming from a family where grades need to be one of my top priorities, I secretly kept from my family the struggles I was facing, fearing that they would blame the struggles of school on my friends or my activities I like to do besides school. Grades really caused me to be a shut-in from my family and I would only tell them about my best grades. The expectations given to me caused me to become very blind-slighted to what was going on around me and caused a lot of anxiety especially when I was younger growing up.”- Mekayla Cordovez
VOX ATL: How would you like someone to react/help you if they discovered your struggles with trying to reach others expectations?
“Maybe just by telling me that I did good. It would also be nice just to be told that someone is proud of me.”- Ellis Schroder
“Having someone let me know that the expectations I have for myself are extreme and don’t have to be met I feel would help with the pressure I feel with these things.”- Carol Perez, 15, Cross Keys High School
Being “Too” in Control
Having the ability to manage a situation is a crucial trait needed to succeed in the real world, so why should it be a problem when kids develop this characteristic earlier than usual in life? When young students distance themselves from adult figures in their life, they begin taking things into their own hands. Gifted students don’t only like being in control of a situation, but they also feel the need to be in control to help manage stress and their perfectionistic needs. These students can come off as bossy, antisocial, and bad decision makers since they like to know what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. Having control issues can cause academic and social struggles because this need for dominance over the world can and will overpower the student’s ability to work well with others.
VOX ATL: How does having control issues negatively impact you?
“It causes me to feel like other people hate working with me because I constantly want things to be perfect, so I often resort to doing everything by myself.”- Ellis Schroder
“It negatively impacted me because it would be frustrating when things didn’t go the way I had planned and I was anxious all the time when I didn’t plan for something in a new situation.”- Carol Perez
VOX ATL: How would you like someone to react/help you if they discovered that you were having control issues?
““I’d like people to be understanding.”- Ash DeFrancisco, 15, Druid Hills High School
“I would want someone who would be able to understand and help me figure out a way to stop obsessing over every detail of my life because it can be harmful.”- Mekayla Cordovez
Someone’s self-concept is how they perceive oneself and it can be largely influenced by how others treat the individual. For students in the gifted program, it is not irregular for them to develop a separation with general students. The division could be caused by many things, a common one being that the advanced student feels alienated. Gifted education is a different form of learning and can require students to be pulled from class, have different lessons, etc. Children- young kids especially- want to fit in and have similarities with friends, but it can be hard when their school life is completely different. When the students realize how contrasting their world is from their friends, it can take a toll and make the kid think something is wrong with them. This can lead to feelings of self-hatred, shame, and embarrassment because the student doesn’t fully understand why everything is different for them. A negative self-concept can also come from how students are treated by their teachers. As mentioned previously, teachers can neglect their advanced students because they are seen as “smart enough to do their own work.” If a student ends up not being to understand a concept or question on an assignment, it can lead to them feeling that they’re stupid or that something is wrong with them.
VOX ATL: How does having a negative self-concept impact you?
“Having a negative self-concept is always hard because you are always overthinking and bringing yourself down in ways that do a lot of harm.”- Carol Perez
“It again has made me helpless and feel incapable of being of any importance to people and the world.”- Ryan Stinson
VOX ATL: How would you like someone to react/help you if they discovered that you were struggling with a negative self-concept?
“I think what people perceive these “gifted students” to be are hard working and worry-free students and cause of that I was rarely asked “how are you feeling” and questions like that since they assumed that I got it and that I shouldn’t have to worry about anything because I’m smart but without anyone checking in on my mental health it caused my problems to grow and worsen over the years and it felt like no educational instructors didn’t care how I felt. So if a simple “how are you with school” was thrown at me especially when I was younger then I feel I wouldn’t have had such an overbearing negative self-concept.”- Mekayla Cordovez
“I’d like people to reassure me that I’m doing well and not failing because of one mistake.”- Ash DeFrancisco
“Well some people help without knowing it when people tell me kind, genuine words especially when I’m doubting myself helps me a lot. So words do matter.”- Meily, 14, Arabia Mountain High School
All four of the previous struggles listed can lead to burnout, which is a type of exhaustion caused by excessive stress. Perfectionism, reaching all ridiculous expectations, doing everything alone in addition to normal school work, and losing love for yourself uses a lot of energy and can just cause someone to drown in their struggles. Burnout has become so prominent in the gifted population, that there is a specific kind of exhaustion called “Gifted Kid Burnout.” Some signs of burnout in gifted students are getting overwhelmed by small challenges, increased anxiety, withdrawal from loved ones, decreased motivation, and a loss of interest in activities the student enjoys.
VOX ATL: How does becoming burned out negatively impact you?
“Sometimes I feel like I can’t move or get any work done anymore, and it makes me feel worse about myself…”- Ash DeFrancisco
“Being burned out because of school happens a lot with me and it causes me to have a lot of mental and emotional problems. It’s always tiring and it feels as if you never have time for anything causing unnecessary stress.”- Carol Perez
VOX ATL: How would you like someone to react/help you if they discovered that you were burned out?
“I think having teachers lessen the workload or not give so much work at a time for the gifted students would relieve very much stress on multiple students.”- Carol Perez
“I’d like for people to give me more time to complete things and to actually give me a break.”- Ash DeFrancisco
Overall, a gifted student’s life isn’t as amazing as it is made out to be. There are many battles a kid has to face, internal and external, that not many people see the student experience. Perfectionism, high expectations, a need for control, a negative self-concept, and burnout are just a few from a long list of struggles gifted students face. These conflicts can impact any relationship close or distant and cause a different outlook on life. If you are a gifted student reading this, just know that what you are feeling is ok and that you are not alone.