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Frustration and the Gifted Teen

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: My daughter was tested for gifted in grade 5. It was a suggestion put forth by the school.

In hindsight, all of the signs were there early speech, reading, drawing, understanding adult wit, curiosity, being comfortable in adult conversation etc etc. As she was my fist daughter I just thought she was bright. Up until grade 4 I'd say she was extremely bright and easy going. THEN, her behavior, non-conformity and questioning authority became more prevalent to the point of not acceptable. She was like a little lawyer.

In Grade 5, her test scores were very close (I think 93 or 95) but not 98th.

The non-conformity, acting out , boredom has been on-going since that time. My daughter (now 14) is in grade 9. An avid reader and highly creative arts person, she actually "gets" Shakespeare and understands Old English without translation. She thrives on stimulation and shuts down with the mundane

I have requested she be tested again and was told although it's not usually done at this stage, they will comply as they have met with the panel/teachers and feel it is justified.

To this day, it has been frustrating for everyone and especially my daughter. It's like she is on the cusp. Neither the norm nor gifted.

What can I expect from this test and what can I do to help my daughter get through high school. Thank you so much!

A: I can understand your concern. It is not an easy task for parents to handle gifted children and it becomes harder during their teen years. It is not clear from your letter if she was placed in a program for advanced learners. Did she qualify for the gifted program? If she did not, and with the all the signs you described, it really appears as if she is not in the right program and is slowly burning out. Hence, the non-conformity, acting out, boredom, etc.

It is obvious that she has an interest in literature; is she getting that at school? The reason for her to act out is so natural - she is not getting the mental stimulation she needs! If she is on the cusp, you may need to push for a more advanced program for her. Some gifted children may not qualify the standard test cut off point but you can appeal for additional testing to be done or testing her talent areas. Since the school is willing to test her even though they may not test at this stage, it shows that they are acceptable to special cases. You need to speak to the school and explain her issues and get them to collaborate and help.

It may also be a good idea to recommend a trial program for her. Perhaps, an acceleration program in subjects she shows passion in (e.g., literature) would help her showcase her gifts. You may also want to expose her to more of the materials she is interested in after school hours.

One thing I noticed is the tone of your letter; sounding a little frustrated - which is normal for a parent. But, your girl may have picked on your emotions, and perhaps on the sentiments of others around her - which just make things worse as gifted individuals have heightened sensitivity. Try communicating with her a little more, like an adult and rationalize on things. She needs to vent out her frustrations in a more positive manner. Help her understand her situation which will help her rationalize - extremely important for gifted teens. Being a teenager is hard enough, let alone a gifted teenager whose needs are not met. And it is definitely tough for parents. Some understanding from adults would help greatly. At 14, she would be able to explain her emotions but she would need to trust that adults can help for her to open up.

Please read these excellent articles on gifted teens - it would help you deal with your teen better and manage frustrations on both sides.

Wishing you all the best.


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