Stupid “opinions” on gifted kids

A lot of people seem to think that they are entitled to spew their opinions on gifted kids, parents of gifted kids, and gifted education without having read *any* of the research or without even ever spending time with gifted children.

Here are some of the things you should stop saying on the internet, behind people’s backs, or to their faces:

1.  Why do gifted kids need to be challenged anyway?  Why can’t we let kids be kids?  What’s the rush?

Gifted kids who are not challenged are at a greater risk of dropping out than normal kids.  They’re also more likely to have bad behavior than gifted kids who are sufficiently challenged.  And, if they’re not challenged early on, they can flame out spectacularly when challenged later as young adults.  (All of the previous statements are verifiable from pretty much any research-based book on gifted children.)

On top of that, most children find learning to be fun and to be part of childhood.  It is only adults who seem to feel the need to make learning not fun.  Fight that.

2.  It’s so important for kids to be with their same-aged peers.  It may not be important in elementary school, but just wait until they’re old enough to drive/go to prom/go to college.  Then you’ll see.

Gifted kids are often out-of-synch with their same-aged peers.  It would be great for them to hang around other gifted kids their same age, but many populations don’t have a large enough population to support gifted classes, and tracking is not currently in vogue.   A Nation Deceived makes a clear and convincing case that gifted kids actually do *better* socially on average when accelerated than when with same-aged peers in a normal classroom.  As for driving and prom… those are not the end-all and be-all.  Not all kids go to prom.  Many freshmen go to prom with seniors.  If a freshman hangs out with juniors, hir friends will be driving anyway even though ze can’t, and not all kids have cars or get licenses at 16 anyway.  In terms of college, there are many possibilities not limited to going early, taking a gap year, taking courses at the local college or community college, and so on.  There’s an exciting world of possibilities that may be even better than the status quo.

3.  I knew a kid who skipped grades and ze was totally messed up.

Correlation is not causation.  Gifted kids are often odd and out of synch compared to other kids.  Chances are they’ll seem messed up in the view of some subset of the population whether or not they’re accelerated.  Compared to gifted kids who are not accelerated, those who are accelerated do better academically AND socially, according to A Nation Deceived.

4.  Being bored/miserable/picked on/the only person doing work on a group project is a part of adult life.  Kids need to learn to get used to it in school.

When you’re gifted and do well in school, you can often sort yourself into a profession in which you’re more likely to be surrounded by other competent hard workers doing interesting things.  Being picked on is not normal as an adult.

5.  I’m so sick of hearing X complain about the problems she’s having with her so-called gifted kid, if the kid is actually gifted, which I have my doubts.  Gifted kids don’t need special treatment, not like real special needs kids.  She should just shut up.

It is not easy being the parent of a gifted child.  Gifted children are often intense.  They often do not sleep much, are energetic, are sensitive, act out, get depressed, can be crippled by perfectionism, and many other things, particularly if their needs are not being met.  And society is not set up to help meet their needs in many places.  Additionally, parents of gifted kids often do suffer from isolation.  They often cannot talk about their kids to other parents.  It is wonderful being a parent of gifted children, but there are also challenges.

6.  Kids aren’t really gifted, they’re just hot-housed by over-achieving parents.

We don’t believe there is a such thing as over-achievement (that’s an opinion).  However, gifted kids often achieve quite a bit without the least bit of hot-housing (that’s a fact).  Parents do often provide more academic enrichment for gifted kids because that is what the child needs to help behavior and happiness, but there are generally no flashcards or pressure involved.  Gifted kids often teach themselves to read.  And reading is fun!  All kids are sponges, and gifted kids seem very eager to soak things up.

Remember, opinions and facts are not the same thing, and sometimes incorrect opinions that are not based on actual facts can do real damage.  Do you really want to be one of those people who hurts an entire group?  Well, we know that none of *our* readers would, but occasionally people find their way to us via google.  If you’re in that situation and you say stuff like this, knock it off.

What are incorrect “opinions” that you find annoying, gifted-related or other?

53 Responses to “Stupid “opinions” on gifted kids”

  1. feMOMhist Says:

    giant plus 1 obviously. I basically do not talk about my gifted kids to anyone but my closest friends and then I always feel the need to couch it with all their “negatives” so as to make clear that I’m not saying my kid is better than theirs.

  2. plantingourpennies Says:

    #7 – Gifted kids learn the material better when they finish their work early and and are told to teach others the material by their teachers.
    Not necessarily. They’ve already grasped the material. They could be moving on to more advanced subjects with their time instead of providing unpaid supplemental instruction.

    Mr. PoP and I are pretty good examples of what can happen when someone gets put into one of the best public gifted programs in the country and when their needs are unmet and unchallenged and their parents have to sue the school district to get even some small amount of accelerated coursework. I’ll let you guess which one had a much happier high school experience. Sure it’s anecdotal evidence, but it’s surprising how often the differences in our experiences surface.

  3. First Gen American Says:

    the general population is pretty dumb about a lot of things, not just
    Gifted kids. When I hear something very ignorant I have to remind myself that the company I keep is full of pretty brilliant folks and my inner circle of friends and colleagues does not represent the normal distribution of intelligence out there.

    Also each person has their own unique gifts that may or may not have value to me. My realtor has a brilliant fashion sense, is crazy responsive, has a good network, and is a great negotiator. I don’t need her to have Einstein’s iq but she has what is important to do her job.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Hm, “everybody is gifted in their own way” is one that we don’t mind hearing. Though hearing it directly in response to the difficulties of managing gifted kids… that sometimes comes across as “stop bragging.” And “stop bragging about your gifted kid” is #5.

      • chacha1 Says:

        The “everybody is gifted” thing comes up a lot, but in practice American society does not place nearly the same value on academically gifted people as on, say, athletically or musically gifted. You can be functionally illiterate and be a big star in America . But be a straight-A student and you are likely the butt of every bully *unless* you are also a great performer and/or athlete.

        Meanwhile it is perfectly A-OK to brag about your kid who just won a talent contest or a baseball game, but brag about the straight As and you are an elitist prick.

    • Calee Says:

      This reminds me of when my sister thought the average IQ was 130 because of her peer group. (She was in gradschool at the time.)

      That was a fun bit of explaining we got to do.

    • hush Says:

      Iterations of the opinion that “Every kid is gifted” have bothered me only when said in apparent rebuttal to things parents of gifted kids have said about their kids – such as me telling a friend my preschooler is being accelerated this fall because he has tested in reading and math at a 4th grade level. She replied “Oh, my 5-year-old son started learning to read, too. I wouldn’t call him gifted, since every child seems like a genius in their parent’s eyes.” Ugh.

      Folks who say “Every kid is gifted” probably mean well, but sometimes their words seems to be code for “There’s no such thing as true giftedness, there are just kids who test well – therefore I think you are deluded about your child’s relative intellectual strengths.”

      In my opinion, giftedness is rare where I live (rural America), and I believe that’s a big part of why I feel so isolated, and why I feel the need to downplay my kids’ strengths (unless of course their strengths happen to be in athletics, only then am I allowed to brag.)

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Context for that particular statement is important.

        And yes, generally it’s used to put people down. As a teacher, I believe that all my students have strengths and can achieve, and I don’t really care if they’re gifted artists, they can still reach a level of competence in my classes if they work hard enough.

        However, if I’m worried about my child’s perfectionist tendencies or you ask why my 6 year old is starting 3rd grade (which you know because you asked what grade DC1 is in) and I tell you… that’s not an appropriate response.

        The idea that some kids just test well can hurt children’s educational and emotional outcomes. Especially since giftedness doesn’t always show up on tests, but the problems associated with giftedness are still there. Yes, some kids test better than others, and yes, tests cannot always do a great job of measuring giftedness, but gifteness is still a special need with its own challenges that need to be met.

      • chacha1 Says:

        Agreed. I test well, but that in itself is a gift! Having a high reading speed and excellent reading comprehension = testing well (most of the time). Sometimes these things can be taught, but in childhood they are more likely to be gifts. And it damn well ought to be okay to say so, and not have to self-deprecate with the “oh, he just tests well.” Feh.

      • Rosa Says:

        I think part of discounting/downplaying gifted kids strengths is that a lot of us have had the experience of being labeled gifted and then having our weaknesses never addressed – especially, not too long ago, kids who had social skills weaknesses were basically just thrown to the wolves because school was not for social skills and they were obviously smart enough.

        Some of the most genuinely gifted adults I know, people who are clearly off the charts in IQ, were smart enough to dodge the gifted label by focusing on non-academic skills in school (sports, social stuff) and indulging their academic talents (math, computers, chemistry) outside of school. In a regular, not-especially-great-for-gifted kids school, this is an excellent strategy for avoiding isolation. Not every gifted kid has the social smarts for that, though (and of course the better answer is better support.)

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Gifted girls often dumb themselves down to fit in. A middle school counselor suggested to me that if I wanted to be teased less, I shouldn’t raise my hand in class if I knew the answer.

        The most gifted people I know had supportive schooling situations.

        Paul Graham had an excellent essay on this topic, though it misses the gendered aspect.

      • Rosa Says:

        I know a lot of mathy people who didn’t get the label because their verbal skills lagged early on, and by the time it might have been noticed (later elementary school when there’s more serious math & science) they had already realized gifted was a label they really, really didn’t want. Getting through middle school without being labeled “smart” seemed like it stuck even in high school when they did stuff like win national level science competitions or joined hacker clubs.

  4. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    You know what? Not everyone is gifted in their own way. Most people are unremarkable in every way.

  5. becca Says:

    While I’m not sure about “everyone is gifted in their own way”, I am sure “everyone is stupid about most things”. And “there are some topics that attract stupidity”- giftedness may be one.

    I’m still vaguely uncomfortable around this discussion, and I’ve yet to figure out why.
    Partly, I think I *do* have issues bragging about my kid. Everyone should take their own delight in their kid where they can find it, but it’s also about modeling humility and compassion (and not setting your kid up to be so obviously self-satisfied that they then become a target for anyone seeking to take someone down a peg).
    While *you* may not see the same “look” when kids are athletic, it may be more related to how sports are viewed in your area, or how relatively obviously *different* your kid is in academic stuff vs. atheletic stuff. Roo is athletically precocious, to the point where strangers come up and watch him at the park and tell me to take a video and it’ll go viral (ok, so that lady was overly easily impressed). I try to reinforce the aspects of the compliments I want to reinforce (“oh yes, he’s very focused and will practice a lot!”), but there is also a… strong temptation to be insufferably smug about it, which I feel compelled to resist. It just feels rude to say “yeah, he impresses the heck out of me too”. No matter how true it might be.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Parents of gifted kids DON’T brag about their kids on average. (Except in the comfort of anonymous blogs…) When people discuss milestones, we keep quiet (on average). See the I’m not Crazy post linked earlier about the isolation factor.

      And that’s one reason we hear all these nasty comments– the people who are saying them have no idea that they’re talking about people like us when they complain about their sister or their best friend or whatever trusting person has unburdened herself on the speaker.

      And yes, we say a lot of “Ze loves X,” or “Z works hard at X,” especially in front of the kid … the growth mindset is very important to us.

      • OMDG Says:

        People are very weird re: what they consider to be bragging. I sometimes feel I cannot talk about my child AT ALL lest someone accuse me of bragging. I have also struggled with what to say when someone compliments my child on her gross motor development (or her talking, more recently). Perhaps we should just learn to say “Thank you.”

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        We’ve taken to responding in ways that increase the growth mindset. So, “Yeah, ze practices a lot” and “Yeah, ze really loves X” or “Ze works really hard at it.” If they’re gonna say stuff in the kid’s hearing might as well make it a good lesson instead of a bad one.

        update: I see I already said that!

    • First Gen American Says:

      Athletes are celebrities/gods in this culture and get paid a lot too. It’s not surprising that people seem to value that more than academic prowess. It’s sad though. All types of achievements in children should be celebrated, not just the physical ones. We do put our kids in sports as it is definitely fun for them but also a good social learning place.

  6. sarah Says:

    Oh! I can relate to this on so many levels. I was a gifted child in a district that did not offer any type of gifted/advanced programming; my parents did the best they could to provide alternatives, but they were constrained by time/money/location. I coasted through school without being challenged and by the time I got into university – and challenged for the first time – I burned out hard and fast. So much so, that it ended up taking eight years to complete my undergraduate degree. I eventually sorted myself out, but I think that differentiated school experience would have changed my undergraduate course.

    Now, I find myself constantly deflecting attention from my gifted child’s abilities. When people comment how they cannot believe that my child is reading at 3, my knee-jerk reaction is tell them that he child did not talk until three years old (he learned to speak and read concurrently, in hilarious fashion). Fortunately, our current school district does a (mostly) excellent job of differentiation. There are several elementary schools devoted only to gifted children; this simply means that children are working 2-3 grade levels ahead but is certainly an improvement over my elementary school experience.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      That story of coasting and then crashing and burning is so common! We really want to prevent that.

      The starting talking in sentences thing seems to be something a subset of gifted kids do. I know someone with a McArthur genius award who did that.

      That’s great that your school district does stuff!

      • Happy Says:

        I’ve been told that I did that as a child though at a very early age. Thankfully, I went to a public school that was very into tracking at the time and was given lots of extra educational opportunities and shielded from a lot of the bullying by way of the tracking program that grouped all the gifted kids together for so many classes that it necessitated grouping for homeroom, gym, and lunch (the worst places for bullying), too. Even so, I went relatively underchallenged through much of high school and my first year of college, had a very hard time both academically and socially. Despite going to an Ivy, I found myself surrounded by students who just didn’t think the way I did, workload expectations that were so much more than I’d ever experienced, and teachers who didn’t know me and thus didn’t give me the benefit of the doubt I’d come to know in high school. FYI, I went on to a PhD, an academic career, and a Mac Fellowship so I survived and figured it out. Interestingly, at an informal gathering of Mac Fellows, the talking in sentences comment came up from lots of folks in all different fields (e.g., visual art, science, performance…). Perhaps it’s associated with creativity rather than ‘giftendness’ in the narrow, academic sense we usually use that word for.

    • Jacq Says:

      Interesting that you found that was your experience in university. Mine was that in University I was finally challenged by my peers (I generally have a competitive nature) and did much better than I did in high school – from regular, zero-work honour roll to competitive honour roll. It may have helped that I took a number of years off in between to figure life out and what I wanted however. And that I worked and had a kid in University so didn’t have time to dick around.

  7. rented life Says:

    This post may have explained my growing up years–I was bored in school, especially high school because it was far too easy. But there was definitely the mentality of it’s normal to be bored, to be picked on, etc.

    I worry the “everyone is gifted” statement leads to the “Everyone should get a prize! Everyone is a special shiny snowflake!” crap that I hate. I don’t think that’s anyone intent here, but I think the majority of cases, it is used that way.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Everyone is special in their own special way! I learned that from after school specials growing up. :)

      • rented life Says:

        My childhood school district was big on that. Still is according to my dad–who is a coach there. He tried to push students to excel, but doing so means standing out and who needs that when we’re already “special.” I was telling my husband about this post at dinner, and he was surprised at some of the things people have said about gifted kids.

  8. Mutant Supermodel Says:

    I think that my oldest is gifted but I’m not really sure. He’s never been tested as he is in private school and things are different there. Should I spring for the test? And if so, what do I do if he IS?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      That’s a good question, I dunno. We haven’t tested our kids and don’t plan to until we need to. Right now DC1’s educational needs are being met. I know Femomhist had her kids tested, but she needed that for IEP (individual education plans) for her kids’ public school.

      • feMOMhist Says:

        oops sorry was absent yesterday from interwebz getting work done <<<<< gasp. yes the school district tested fMhson, in fact they repeatedly test him :) So far he confounds most gifted testing He still places in gifted range, but doesn't have a valid IQ test due to differential performance gaps <<<some statistics thingy we humanities people don't get ;) The testing that was most useful was achievement woodcock johnson test of achievement paired with IQ to get a precise idea of fMhson relative strengths and weaknesses. Testing was used to justify in grade acceleration for fMhson starting in first grade.

        Testing can also get you access to some resources like Davidson gifted program but scores must be very very high (we missed one marker grrrr so will have to do one more test if we want to pursue. we haven't so far. I am tempted by the free access to a gifted education specialist who helps advocate for your kid at school!)

        fMhgirl has not been tested by school and we are trying to decide if we should do it in order to get the same acceleration. She is very different child tho and is not motivated by independent work (she "hates" school). School started pulling her out for some gifted specials beginning in K and she seems happy with that.

  9. Alyssa Says:

    I work with gifted kids a lot, and one of the big misconceptions is that gifted kids are also always the quiet/reserved/well-behaved and don’t have any learning disabilities — after all, how can a kid be gifted and not know how to spell? I’ve seen so many bright/gifted kids that have pretty severe LDs – can’t read or write, can’t do math, etc., – and have all kinds of behaviour issues, etc.. I wish people wouldn’t put gifted kids in this box of “perfect” kids, because they can’t (and don’t) live up to that.

  10. darchole Says:

    This isn’t about just gifted children, but in the public school district I live in and went to school in (I have no children), the attitude of the school board/administration seems to be that there is no need to have separate programs for the gifted OR for children with mental/developmental/physical disabilities, that both can be accommadated in the same classroom (and no aides even to help). Where I live many parents deal with this by private school or moving out of the district entirely, which then conversely drives down the overall quality teaching in the district, because there are no “smart” kids to push the teacher into teaching more/better (not saying this is right). There are some great teachers in the district, but they too are leaving because of the quality of the other teachers at the schools. By not seeing the need for providing programs for gifted (or challenged) children, my school district is just shooting themselves in the foot.

  11. Laura Vanderkam (@lvanderkam) Says:

    The refusal of some schools to even entertain the idea of acceleration, because it didn’t work for “one child” years ago, is just absurd. Acceleration is the easiest way to at least try to challenge a kid, without needing self-contained gifted classes. I like self-contained gifted classes, but if a school isn’t big enough to offer them, then acceleration is the way to go.
    By the way (sorry for the self-promotion here) I host a blog called Gifted Exchange on gifted topics if anyone is looking for more on this: It’s sponsored by the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, which does a lot of work with gifted kids and advocacy.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Self-promotion is always welcome here. :)

      And definitely on the “one child” example. I love the way that a A Nation Deceived looks at all the “one child”s and finds that on average acceleration has benefits, not drawbacks.

      • Tinkering Theorist Says:

        There’s a saying, “if you want to know when your baby is going to learn to walk, ask someone who has only 1 child”.
        Where “know” apparently means “get a specific numerical answer to the question”.

  12. Donna Freedman Says:

    “Smart people don’t have any common sense.”
    Um, no.
    “Oh, you think you’re SO SMART…”
    As though that were a bad thing. I used to hear that a lot as a kid because I raised my hand a lot in class. (I also used to get, “Boys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses” and “Reference books are never taken out” — in other words, I was doomed to a loveless spinsterhood if I were *too* intelligent…Gaaahhhh.)
    As an adult I learned that my second-grade teacher wanted to skip me ahead to at least the third grade. My parents decided against it because they thought it wouldn’t be good for me. Grrrr.

  13. Gail Post Says:

    Really like your list of comments. They reflect the misunderstanding so many have about the inherent differences gifted individuals experience. They are “different, not special,” but somehow, many equate “giftedness” with the assumption that one is labeling his or her child as special.

  14. When will we leave a sharply worded comment on your post? | Grumpy rumblings of the (formerly!) untenured Says:

    […] When you say that worrying about education for gifted kids is a terrible thing and you should let kids be kids.  Or that kids need to stay with their same-age peers.  Or that there’s no reason for kids to read early.  Hulk smash. […]

  15. Sapience Says:

    So I’m a month late to this party, but thanks for writing this. The gifted education program when I was in school really was the only thing that kept from becoming a major problem for my parents and school. Last fall, a bunch of alumni from the program had to stage a major fight with the school board to keep the school from dismantling the program. I hadn’t done any research on gifted kids until I was helping with that, and I ended up being astonished at how much my own experience lined up exactly with what the research says, and what you are saying here. (I wrote a little about it on my blog, here:

  16. Ask the grumpies: Skipping K? | Grumpy Rumblings (of the formerly untenured) Says:

    […] Update:  Before another person posts about grade skipping being bad based on one anecdote for which they do not know the counterfactual (note:  research suggests that on average, the counterfactual would have been worse!), please read this post here. […]

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