Envy and Giftedness: Are We Underestimating the Effects of Envy?

A taboo topic?

I have been to several conferences and read many books on giftedness, but one subject that is little discussed is the social/emotional effects on gifted children of being envied. It’s as if we are hoping that by not talking about it, it will go away, and we will not run the risk of being accused of bragging.

Advanced Squelching

A few months ago, I was struck by the candor and self-awareness of Joyce Slaton in her blog post, “I hate hearing about your gifted child.” She said, in part:

I get it that the moms are proud, and certainly, I don’t mind hearing about the kids’ other wonderful accomplishments. It’s the gifted thing that gets me… But why am I comparing? Why do I care? Normal is a good thing! Normal is great! Normal is what I prayed for. But that’s a lie. I didn’t. I prayed for better than normal. I wanted the Amazing Super Child who was going to prove to the world how 5-star my DNA is (believe me, typing that out, I realize how stupid that sounds). Maybe that’s why I feel like crap when a mom I know brags about the advanced-aheadedness of her kid. Do the braggers even notice that I fall silent and get downcast, listening? I try not to let it show. I know the moms are just excited and proud, and maybe I’d feel the same way if I had a lot of stuff to brag about.

Her post generated over 400 comments! Clearly, there are many parents who feel the same way. There were also many comments from parents of gifted kids who felt that they were being unfairly accused of bragging.

Bored

Envy mediates self-interest and group interests in social groups

What I want to focus on first are Joyce’s questions: “Why am I comparing? Why do I care?” To answer that, we should first ask, “Why do humans feel envy?”

“Envy can be defined as feelings, thoughts, and behaviors that arise when our personal qualities, possessions, or achievements do not measure up to those of someone significant to us.” (Salovey & Rodin, 1985; Silver & Sabini, 1978a)

Envy has both positive and negative aspects. In the positive form, we admire the object of our envy and seek to emulate that person. It’s the negative aspect that we consider socially unacceptable: we seek to steal or destroy the object of our envy.There’s also evidence that envy plays a greater role in our reactions than we’re consciously aware of. The stronger and more negative the envy, the more likely our awareness of it is to be suppressed. Silver and Sabini (1978b) pointed out that

Since an attribution of envy presupposes that the individual has been diminished or at least that he perceives this to be the case, to be seen as envious is doubly damaging. Not only have we committed a “sin,” but we have tacitly acknowledged our inferiority. Considering this, people usually find it very difficult to admit that they envy someone else.

What I’ve read about envy mostly considers it the result of individual self-interest. Salovey and Rodin (1984) proposed three eliciting conditions of envy:

  • Negative or esteem diminishing information about oneself with regard to another person
  • High self-relevance of that information
  • High similarity to or close relationship with the reference person.

I propose that envy also serves the function of mediating individual interests (resources, status, self-esteem) and group interests (sharing, stable social hierarchy). The basis for envy is the social principle of fairness. We see this principle in other primates. In primate social groups, if one individual takes more than his share, the others become envious. That individual is seen as committing a social transgression, and is challenged by the group or by more dominant individuals. In this way, envy maintains resource sharing among individuals in social species.

Envy also maintains a stable social hierarchy in the group because it is moderated by social status. Envy is held in check when the individual who has more resources also has greater status and can defend that status. In other words, if a weaker individual couldn’t challenge the stronger one in a test of dominance, then the weaker individual’s envy must be suppressed. This is also observed in humans who experience more intense envy of people they are in direct competition with than they do toward people they see as being much higher status (e.g. admired movie stars).

On the other hand, envy is given free rein when the group perceives that an individual has more than his share of resources than his status would merit. Because of this, individuals who experience envy automatically seek to justify their feelings with the rest of the group. They rationalize their responses by attributing social transgressions to the envied person. In this way, envy helps individuals transform their own interests into group interests. The rationalization process also serves to cover up the individual’s self-interested goals, and may even conceal it from his own conscious knowledge. This is more likely to occur when the envy is intense.

Outliers inspire envy

Envy occurs whether or not it is “justified”. We may envy someone for taking more than his share of resources (a behavior over which he has control), but we also envy someone for being more beautiful or intelligent than we are (things the envied person doesn’t control). In the case of beauty or intelligence, if a person is much more beautiful or much smarter than everyone else in the group, that person will be in the position of always defending their right to that higher level of status, and of constantly being envied by those in competition with them. The group may work together to undermine the status of the envied person, and make things more “equal”. As James Fenimore Cooper said, “The tendency of democracies is, in all things, to mediocrity.”

Cheating

In order to understand interactions like what we see on Slaton’s blog, the key is that when people experience envy, they automatically generate rationalizations to justify the actions they want to take, and to seek support from other group members. Sometimes these rationalizations are logical and support the group interests of resource sharing, for example, “It’s not fair for John Doe to take more water for his farm just because he lives upstream.” Sometimes they are fabrications that other group members recognize as false, and are considered socially unacceptable expressions of envy. But they can also be fabrications that the group accepts because they are expedient justifications for actions that are seen as being in the best interests of the group.

Envy can reinforce stereotypes

The latter case is more likely to occur when the person who is envied has an outlier trait that cannot be shared with the group and that is seen as serving the envied individual’s interest alone. In Slaton’s blog, the trait in question is having a gifted child. The parent of the gifted child cannot share the child’s intellectual gifts with the other parents’ children. Those who envy the parent of the gifted child tend to immediately attribute their negative feelings (actually generated by the envy) to some social transgression on the part of the envied parent. In this case, the charge is “bragging”. This makes sense, because any discussion of the gifted child’s abilities makes their envy salient, and they naturally want to avoid that emotional discomfort. Parents are not only defending their own self-concepts as good parents and intelligent people, but even more vitally, they are defending their own good opinion of their offspring. Slaton’s blog is again an excellent example of this mechanism because she goes on to talk about what she values in her own daughter: kindness and being thoughtful of others.

Meeting the Principal

In fact, even if the parents of gifted kids say nothing about their children’s abilities, they are still often perceived as committing some social transgression. The list of these transgressions corresponds very closely to the negative stereotypes of gifted people:

Negative stereotypes of the gifted

  • Bragging
  • Showing off
  • Being a snob
  • Aloofness
  • Evil genius
  • Disrespectful of authority

 Social transgressions that parents of gifted kids are often accused of

  • Bragging
  • Showing off
  • Feeling superior
  • Cheating
  • Mistreating their children by pushing them academically

These accusations of social transgressions serve the purpose of reducing the salience of the envy (If parents of gifted kids are not allowed to talk about their kids, then I won’t feel envious) or denying that the children are actually gifted (If the parents are cheating and helping kids with work, or pushing their children inhumanely to produce high achievers, then the children are not really gifted.) They also serve the purpose of reducing the status of parents of gifted children by making them appear to be bad parents or selfish people. In some cases, this extends to justifying social exclusion or outright bullying of gifted children and their families.

Showing Off

“But wait!” you say. “When they talk about what their gifted kids can do, they really are bragging!” Now we come to what impressed me so much about Slaton’s blog post: she recognizes that if she were in the position of having a gifted child, she would want to talk about her child’s abilities, too. As parents, we are not given a manual on how to raise our children. We have to make choices without knowing how things will turn out. We all know it’s impossible to follow all the advice out there on child rearing, so we seek feedback and reassurance from other parents. Are we doing a good job? Are our kids developmentally on track? Ordinarily, this works pretty well. Most people’s kids are developmentally similar, but when a child is gifted, it becomes socially unacceptable for her parents to talk about her developmental trajectory. Here is an example of a normal scenario leading to envy and charges of bragging or pushing.

Scenario: Two moms, Abby and Betty, are sitting on a bench at the park. Abby introduces herself to Betty and starts asking about Betty’s child.

Abby: Is that your daughter in the green over there? How old is she?

Betty: She’s two.

Abby: Oh! (feeling uncomfortable) I saw her reading that sign…

Betty: (feeling uncomfortable) Is that your daughter on the slide?

Abby: Yes. She’s four. She isn’t reading yet. I don’t believe in that flashcard stuff. Kids should be allowed to be kids.

Notice that Betty has few choices in this exchange that could lead to a good outcome. She can let the assumption stand that she drills her child for hours with flashcards every day and doesn’t allow her to “be a kid” (despite the evidence that she does take her to parks), or she can deny using the flashcards and say truthfully that her daughter learned to read spontaneously which will lead to Abby perceiving her as bragging. Also note that neither Abby nor Betty is feeling good about this interaction. The usual script has failed them both, and neither is getting a feeling of support from the other.

One thing Betty might try to do is find a way to deny being in an enviable position. She might say, “Well, if only I could get her to stop pooping her pants.” Or, “I am looking forward to when she is four. She still won’t sleep in her own bed.” This tactic may soothe Abby’s feelings, but it comes at a price: Betty is forced to think of her own child in a negative light, and to express negative feelings about her child in front of the child. If this happens occasionally, it probably doesn’t have much impact, but the since Betty’s daughter’s abilities are rare, Betty will have to use this approach much more often than other parents.

Envy affects the social development of gifted kids

During infancy and early childhood, in highly gifted children, giftedness may already be apparent due to precocious development of speech, reading, and/or math abilities. Gifted children may also have other behavioral differences such as high levels of activity and alertness that make parenting a challenge. The child’s precocious abilities create conflict within the larger social context which is an obstacle to the development of a realistic self-concept and trust in adults. Parents of gifted children report feeling uncomfortable about mentioning their children’s abilities in front of other parents. Other adults may react strangely toward the gifted child, for example, a two year old reading labels aloud in the supermarket may attract attention. This attention is sometimes positive (Wow! How old is he? He can read already? What a smart boy!) but sometimes negative (How can you do that to your child! You should let her be a child, not force her to practice reading all day!) Unfortunately, even the positive response does not promote a healthy self-concept because when a child’s abilities are always called out, the child concludes that these are the most important aspects of his self, and perhaps the only facet of himself that is valued. The negative responses (which are often delivered with a judgmental, angry demeanor) are also damaging to the parent/child relationship, and to a child’s trust of other adults.

Highly gifted children whose abilities are very out of the ordinary can inspire shocking displays of envy in adults. One young boy, who learned to read before he was three years old, was granted early entrance to Kindergarten at age four. When the time came for the cute little “graduation” ceremony in the spring, a parent objected to his participation saying that he was not really in Kindergarten because he was too young, and that allowing him to “graduate” Kindergarten would be cheating because he had not achieved everything that his own son had achieved. I put quotes around “graduate” because in that state, Kindergarten is not legally required and there are no standards for such a graduation. Here, the gifted student’s family was accused of a (fabricated) social transgression, and the other parent successfully recruited allies on the school staff and convinced them to exclude the boy from the end of year party.

Top Dog

Middle childhood, or the grade school period, marks the child’s first friendship experiences with other children. Unfortunately for gifted children, most of their exposure to other children happens in the context of school. In the school context, competition and comparisons between the abilities of the children are more prominent than during ordinary play interactions. Age-based segregation in grades contributes to these comparisons because all children in a given age group are expected to meet certain standards. Students are aware of each other’s grades and performance in school, and high achievers are often the targets of bullying. It is likely that this bullying is the result of envy. Bullies seek to reduce the status of their targets by physically dominating them or by undermining them socially.

The gifted child also must navigate relationships with teachers. Unfortunately, teachers are not immune to envy, and this creates conflict that the gifted child is forced to resolve. We would predict that teachers’ envy would manifest itself as the perception of the gifted child as socially transgressing, and research bears this out. (Geake & Gross, 2008) Although the teachers did not directly report feelings of envy, they reported fears that the gifted child would undermine the teacher’s authority (the teachers’ anxiety seems to center on fears that the gifted child is subversive and not pro-social). Gifted children who know more about some topics than the teacher can be threatening to the teacher. Young gifted children may not realize this and helpfully correct the teacher in front of the class, undermining the teacher’s status.

Ruining the Curve

This research also shows that teachers may have unconscious negative responses to gifted children in their classrooms. An envious teacher’s behavior toward the gifted child sends subtle signals to the other children that the gifted child is a threat and should be ostracized. The gifted child also receives this message and feels rejected. Envious teachers can also unconsciously undermine the gifted child by attacking his self confidence through criticism or by constantly testing him. This creates anxiety in the gifted child and promotes the conditions for unhealthy perfectionism and underachievement.

Some teachers may be concerned about protecting gifted students from the envy of others. I often see educators recommending that gifted students not be grade accelerated because they will face “social problems”. Gifted programs in schools often include differentiated instruction. This sounds like a good idea in theory, but in practice it is rarely well-executed. Concerns about envy may play a large role in the teacher’s reluctance to give different work to the gifted students in their classes, and the reluctance of some gifted students to be seen doing different work.

Feeling Bad

Sometimes, teachers avoid differentiation because they want to spare other students from feelings of envy. In one anecdotal example, when a gifted 5th grade girl in a 5th/6th combo class (where she had been placed so she could work at her own pace) finished the 5th grade math book in a few months and asked to move on to the 6th grade math book, the teacher told her that she couldn’t do that because “the 6th grade boys would feel bad.” Not only did this teacher deny the gifted student an opportunity to learn, she also sent the student the tacit message that her giftedness “makes others feel bad” and should be hidden.

Gifted children, who are often sensitive and perceptive, respond in various ways to these mixed messages about whether their intelligence and achievements are good things or not. Some of them withdraw and stop exhibiting gifted behaviors. They underachieve in school and intentionally withhold what they know from the teacher. Some of them act out in frustration at their rejection by the group, and some reject the group in turn. When the teacher’s envy is a problem, the gifted student is in a no-win situation. If he hangs back and doesn’t participate, he is seen as aloof or uncooperative. If he participates enthusiastically, he is seen as a show-off. Some carefully balance on a narrow middle path of acting as average as possible, and denying their true selves.

Singled Out

The responses of others to the gifted child set him up for increased anxiety and sensitivity. Being excluded from the group creates anxiety, and increased anxiety can lead to psychomotor agitation, emotional lability, and/or withdrawal. Many of these behavioral responses correspond with overexcitabilities observed in gifted students. The constant vigilance required to carefully navigate around the envy triggers of others can contribute to increased sensitivity. In this way, I think anxiety over exclusion from the group contributes to the observed intensity and sensitivity of gifted students. The increased anxiety and sensitivity are in turn interpreted as social defects inherent in the gifted child, and unfortunately, envious adults can unwittingly reinforce these behavior patterns because they are eager to find fault with the gifted child. Even parents can overemphasize these difficulties in their own children in their attempts to convince others that their children are not in an enviable position.

Adolescence is a period of increasing competition and increased attention to differences as teens build their identities. (Massé& Gagné, 2002) The interactions increase in complexity as teens practice imagining the mental states of others. They assume that downward comparisons should lead to reassurance and pride, and therefore interpret the gifted teens as prideful and snobbish. Meanwhile, the gifted teens are faced with stereotype threat, “Gifted kids think they’re better,” and are forced to cope with it by denying the stereotype and working hard not to confirm it (Steele, 1997). Teachers in middle and high school may have reactions to gifted students similar to those of grade school teachers: unconscious negative affect. They may single out the gifted student, modeling exclusion for the other students. Gifted teens are faced with a choice: deny the self to gain acceptance of the group or preserve their gifted identity and face exclusion.

The problem of dealing with other people’s envy is one of the central problems of gifted development. This is why gifted programs are so important for gifted kids; they need to be in an environment where the teachers expect to teach gifted students and welcome them, and where the discrepancies between the students’ abilities and their age-peers are not so dramatic so that competition and comparison generate less envy. It is not because they can’t make friends with non-gifted kids, or because gifted people are elitist. Like everyone else, they need a social group where they can feel accepted as they are, and where they can receive positive feedback for their achievements.

References:

Adler, Manfred. (1961). A study of attitudes toward the gifted child as a causal factor in his socio-personal adjustment. Gifted Child Quarterly, 5, 134-141.

Gallagher, Selena; Smith, Susen R. & Merrotsy, Peter. (2011). Teachers’ perceptions of the socioemotional development of intellectually gifted primary aged students and their attitudes towards ability grouping and acceleration. Gifted and Talented International, 26(2), 11- 24.

Geake, John G. & Gross, Miraca U. M. (2008). Teachers’ negative affect toward academically gifted students: An evolutionary psychological study. Gifted Child Quarterly, 52, 217-231.

Lassig, Carly J. (2009). Teachers’ attitudes towards the gifted : the importance of professional development and school culture. Australasian Journal of Gifted Education, 18(2), 32-42.

Markey, Sean. (2003). Monkeys show sense of fairness, study says. National Geographic News, Sept. 17. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/09/0917_030917_monkeyfairness.html

Massé, Line & Gagné, Franfoys. (2002). Gifts and talents as sources of envy in high school settings. Gifted Child Quarterly, 46, 15-29.

Needham, V. (2012). Primary teachers’ perceptions of the social and emotional aspects of gifted and talented education. APEX: The New Zealand Journal of Gifted Education, 17(1).

Salovey, P., & Rodin, J. (1984). Some antecedents and consequences of social comparison jealousy. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 47, 780-792.

Salovey, P., & Rodin, J. (1985). Jealousy and envy: The dark side of emotion. Psychology Today, 19(2), 32-34.

Silver, M., & Sabini, J. (1978a). The perception of envy. Social Psychology, 41, 105-117.

Silver, M., & Sabini,J. (1978b). The social construction of envy: A conceptual analysis. Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior, 8, 313-331.

Slaton, Joyce. (2012). I hate hearing about your gifted child. Baby Center Blog, Jan. 31. http://blogs.babycenter.com/mom_stories/i-hate-hearing-about-your-gifted-child/

Steele, Claude M. (1997). A threat in the air: How stereotypes shape intellectual identity and performance. American Psychologist, 52(6), 613-629.

Acknowledgements:

Thanks to Margo Burns and Nina Paley for creating Comic-O-Matic, which I used to create the images in this piece.

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68 Responses to Envy and Giftedness: Are We Underestimating the Effects of Envy?

  1. lauralynnwalsh says:

    Excellent! I especially appreciate the reasons that some teachers are unwilling to differentiate for the gifted students, since I see this quite often. IME, differentiation really isn’t happening, both for these reasons and the fundamental difficulty of differentiating for kids WAY outside of the classroom average.

    • s2sully says:

      IMO it doesn’t have to be fundamentally difficult, just look at Montessori schools and ability grouping. Its a culture change in education, one which is on the cusp of change with Common Core, which is about differentiated learning to multiple intelligences.

  2. Lisa Marchiano says:

    I relate to so much in this re my own experience in elementary, especially the unconscious (or not so unconscious) negative affect of teachers. It was SO perplexing to me as a child that the teachers would join with those who were ostracizing me. I had never thought about it in terms of envy, but that makes so much sense. I recall one year (5th) that was particularly bad socially, but my teacher himself was HG. He did not join in, but communicated that he valued my intelligence.

    Thanks for writing this. An eye opener.

  3. kathypark25 says:

    What an interesting and enlightening article. I think so many of these negative dynamics played out in my family growing up where my brother and I were adopted from different mothers. Sharing no DNA but being raised in the same family I believe most of these negative dynamics were operating in my family. Wow, this explains so much!

  4. Thank you for writing on this topic. This, I believe, is a MAJOR issue among the gifted. I remember my stepfather snarling at me with utter disgust, “You’re good at EVERYTHING!” Growing up gifted, I learned when and where to hold back. I still do this. And now, raising gifted children, I see these prejudices everywhere. It’s difficult to see something which should truly be celebrated, instead being looked at with suspicion or even contempt. Why should we hide who we are?

  5. wonderlanddiapers says:

    Thank you for this well informed and reasoned article! It helps to explain sooo much.

  6. Twin Mommy says:

    Thank you for this wonderful article! I have to say being the mom of gifted kids has been the most socially isolating experience of my life. Just last week, I sat talking to two friends. One friend asked me which gifted kindergarten (my sons (twins) were accepted to two) we would be sending them to and why we picked one over the other. The other mom, who is a former kindergarten schoolteacher, sat there the whole time rolling her eyes like a teenager when I discussed the differences in the two programs, the testing for both, and why we thought one would be a better fit than the other. She also kept trying to change the subject rather than letting me answer the other friend’s questions. The teacher friend has made it very clear in past conversations that she doesn’t believe there is any such thing as “gifted” and that “gifted” kids in kindergarten “even out” by 3rd grade and are no longer ahead. She also has expressed that she doesn’t really think my sons is “ahead” – like this whole “gifted thing” is just a figment of my imagination. My sons were administered two separate full IQ tests and ability tests by two separate school systems and both tested above the 98% on all tests. There “giftedness” is not a figment of my imagination and presents some very real challenges for their education. But rather than having the support and advice from an experienced teacher, I get eye-rolling and, undoubtedly, a slew of nasty comments behind my back. It also makes me not want to hang out with her or her kids because I fell like she is always looking for “evidence” that my kids are behind in some area. We’ve been friends for over 20 years and our friendship is dissolving over this one issue. It’s so frustrating and sad.

    • It’s true… and people can end up feeling very isolated. I hope you are able to make some connections with families that are comfortable with your kids.

      • Twin Mommy says:

        Thanks to social media (and Hoagies’ Gifted and other gifted groups), we have been able to make friends (for both us and our kids) with a group of other parents with similarly-gifted kids (including one other set of twins)! It has been such a relief to find people with whom we can be ourselves and let our kids be themselves!

    • Paul K says:

      To the quarterback’s parents, “You must be so proud!” Parent, “Yeah, he really is an amazing player!” To the science Olympian’s parents, “Why are you bragging about your kid?” That’s how it is. To the star quarterback, “Dude, you’re so amazing.” to the kid who won the science fair, “NERD! Why don’t you go read a book or something!” *punch* Our society has evolved little more than apes where brawn rules.

  7. Carole W says:

    Thank you for this article! You showed me (and explained) my tendency to point out something negative about my gifted child every time someone notices something extraordinary about him, which I’ve always done to keep from sounding like a braggart or keep people from feeling negative things about their own children. I thought I was being nice. But you’re so right: it comes at a price.

    For the first time, I realize what I’ve been doing to my son and to my own feelings toward him over the last nine years, and (at least a large part of) why I’m often so critical and negative toward him. I’ve often caught myself being negative and wondered why I expected him to be so perfect, but I think the problem is that my habit of pointing out the negative has spread to my own thoughts of him, and every time I notice something good, I automatically counter it with something bad. :(

    I so appreciate your defining this phenomenon, and now that I see it, I can work to change it. Knowing is half the battle, right? :) And now I can fight the rest of it. I’m looking forward to seeing what this does for him, and for our relationship. Many, many thanks!!

  8. Lacy says:

    Here is my issue with over used term “giftedness.” Do hear Asians and Indian parents parading their child around as gifted as their child excels? Nope. Why? It’s an expectations to excel. They are honest with themselves about how hard their children work. Gifted parents of Caucasian descent obnoxiously parade themselves around as having the best genes in the world and how lucky they are to have gifted children. They refused to acknowledge that their child does actually work to obtain knowledge and understanding. What difference does it make if its self-led or a family expectation? Is that all that separates the gifted from everyone else? Are their gifted children? Yep. But they are rare. The rest are just hardworking and love learning. (From a Caucasian woman with 3 early readers and mathematicians who work hard and love learning because we are too broke to be lazy).

    • Lacy, you have pretty much completely missed the point of what giftedness is. Giftedness is not achievement. Not all gifted kids are achievers and not all achievers are gifted kids. There are, in fact, plenty of Asian-Americans who refer to their kids as gifted – I know many of them! But you probably don’t because they aren’t necessarily the achiever kids that you’re paying attention to. If you’d like to understand giftedness, read Stephanie Tolan’s fabulous analogy: http://www.stephanietolan.com/is_it_a_cheetah.htm and this piece on how achiever kids and gifted kids look in the classroom: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/gifted-ed-guru/201201/the-bright-child-vs-the-gifted-learner-whats-the-difference

    • Twin Mommy says:

      Talk about proving the posters point about the envy of gifted kids! Considering that my sons’ gifted program is at least 1/3rd non-Caucasian children, I would say that the children of the “Asians and Indian parents” who *are* actually gifted are “parading” around just as much as the Caucasian kids. It seems like you don’t understand the real difference between gifted and hard-working. Sure, some kids who push themselves hard (particularly when the family expects them too) will learn, sometimes above their grade level. But gifted kids, by and large, require 1/4 to 1/2 the time of exposure to learn the same material. They don’t have to push as hard or study as much to learn the same material. That’s just a fact — not a refusal of parents to acknowledge anything. Not to mention I don’t know a single parent of a gifted child who claims to have the “best genes in the world” or feels lucky to have a gifted child — most of us are too darn worn out by our children, too exasperated by trying to make sure our children are receiving an appropriate education, and too uncomfortable about people who express comments like yours to view having a gifted child as a lucky break.

      Further, early reading doesn’t equal gifted. Lots of kids read early. Gifted is a wholly different matter. And yes, gifted is rare — about 2-5% of the population. Which means your average elementary school will have at least a few very gifted kids.

      • White haired Momma says:

        “I don’t know a single parent of a gifted child who claims to have the – best genes in the world – or feels lucky to have a gifted child”

        Your words have summed it up in a nutshell. My hubby and I sometimes feel like we have a son with a Ferrari engine and a VW chassis fitted with wheelbarrow wheels. Things just don’t work well altogether though you’d think otherwise, needing immense amounts of energy to move, and then it’s intense fits and starts and not usually due to anything we’ve done that we can see. Highly unusual and unique are the good words to describe our life with him with worrisome coming a close 2nd:)
        Who would be envious of such a life?

        We tend to keep to ourselves or talk in only the tightest circles about achievements.
        It’s nice when our son succeeds but as we’re interested in the whole child it’s more a feeling of “whew!”. The intensity of parenting HG kids makes for a pretty wild ride.
        We try to be active in our local gifted community association to help the parents of G, HG & PG kids coming up. It’s a special need but without the public compassion or acceptance that it is.

        Early in our days of discovery of what being HG might mean for our son we heard a speaker who cited some alarming statistics about the US prison population and the concentration of very highly intelligent people living inside. Hmmm. If that’s not a motivator for society to get these kids some support I don’t know what is.

        -White haired Momma

    • Princess Mom says:

      Lacy, I agree with you that “gifted” is a term that is overused. It is commonly applied–particularly by teachers–to hardworking, high-achieving, very compliant students who are fabulous people but in no way gifted. The parents of those bright, high-achieving, non-gifted students do seem to be very competitive with other parents of bright, not-so-high achieving students, especially on the East Coast. Such behavior muddies the waters of giftedness, so that people assume that all parents who use the term “gifted” are these grasping, competitive parents.

      We’re not. The gifted students I know are not compliant, because their hunger for learning is such that they starve in a regular classroom. Some of us, usually girls, manage to tamp down their hunger and rev up their people pleasing so that we sometimes get some crumbs of differentiation thrown at us. Some gifted kids, usually boys, get labelled ADHD, oppositional, Asperger’s/autistic or even bipolar because they physically cannot sit quietly until the class catches up to them. After all, that could take *years* and who has *years* to sit quietly waiting?

      The parents of real gifted children sit silently at playgroup because they are not allowed to talk about their children’s milestones without getting glares and a cold shoulder. The parents of real gifted children are terrified of messing up the “scary smart” children the Universe has foolishly trusted us with. The parents of real gifted children desperately wish they could put their child on the school bus in the morning and not worry all day about the phone call from school saying your child has misbehaved, or worked himself into a headache or stomach ache of frenzy–again–because he is being bullied by classmates or by the teacher or both. And the parents of real gifted children often have suppressed bad feelings or old negative scripts about giftedness that they internalized when they were gifted children, even if their schools and their parents never told them they were gifted.

      Gifted people have so few places where we can be ourselves without fear. Please don’t make this blog yet another place where we have to stifle ourselves to make you feel better.

      • Karen Kraeger says:

        You pulled the words straight out of my brain, “The parents of real gifted children are terrified of messing up the ‘scary smart’ children the Universe has foolishly trusted us with.” My husband and I remind ourselves daily that God gave us our son because He thought we could love him and help him to grow. Knowing this is the only thing that keeps us going through the years of high intensity living that come with a highly gifted son. We thought many times how much easier life would be with an “average” kid, but we wouldn’t trade our bright, highly emotional, creative, sometimes completely unmotivated son for anything in the world. He has grown to become a wonderful man, but it has never been easy raising this gifted boy.

        The gift he has given me, as an educator, is to realize that all children need targeted specialized support to reach their needs–even if those needs are far beyond their current age-mates. Being gifted doesn’t equal automatic success or even motivation to learn in school. Those things need to be carefully supported and encouraged or there is great risk of “dropping out” with gifted kids. This happens when they quit trying and just put in the minimal effort to pass their classes. Don’t get me wrong with this statement. I don’t believe that all gifted kids need to grow up to make “great contributions” to society. They, like all kids, deserve to find a life and work that make them happy and fulfilled–whatever that means for them. To see high ability kids choosing a life of monotonous drudgery because their passion has been extinguished is heartbreaking. I hope that in my small efforts, I have shown a few kids ways to keep the fires of learning alive.

  9. C A says:

    Wow…that was my life…you explained so much…way people were mean to me all the time…and I wasnt ever allowed to talk about anything I did well, because they would get worse…eventually started failing everything to please people…but it sure didn’t help me…

  10. Thank you for this in-depth article. I will definitely be linking to it from my blog. You do a great job of explaining how damaging envy is to gifted children, and I especially appreciated how you broke it down into the different age groups. We have experienced all these reactions from teachers and parents, and it’s very frustrating. Neither of my kids is the “achiever” kid that Lacy’s comment refers to – they fit the definitions of giftedness that you find on sengifted.org and in A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children. They have special needs, and no amount of negative pressure will stop me from trying to fill those needs. We have ended up homeschooling, and I am seeing more and more families with gifted children looking at this option. Kids are so much happier when they can simply be themselves and develop at whatever speed works for them. Thank you!

  11. Thank you for writing this! I was a “gifted child” before gifted programs — they called a psychologist in to test me, and I remember feeling that somehow being “smart” was very very wrong. Spent my whole childhood feeling defective — then had two kids who apparently inherited my quirkiness. Interesting “gift” — sure, it’s fun picking certain things up quickly; but I always wondered why people couldn’t just be happy about the things they could do, and not take my happiness as an act of aggression. So many things I’m not good at — why should people think I think I’m better than them? I remember this accusation again and again — not true. I thought I was wearing a sign, and that everything that I was told was “wrong” with me was true. You could come out of a childhood like this thinking that you are the broken toy nobody wants. And still some people interpret your silence (afraid to say anything) as putting on airs.

  12. Thank you so much for this very helpful and touching column. There’s a further consequence to the envy problem–it often keeps parents of gifted students from finding each other. Very few parents are comfortable about standing up in a school meeting and asking whether anyone else is the parent of a gifted child–and if they do, very few parents in the audience are comfortable about raising their hands. This leaves parents vulnerable to a “divide and conquer” strategy by schools that makes ability grouping less likely. Teachers of heterogeneous classrooms also find themselves in invidious positions. If they spend time working with the gifted student, it feeds resentment by other students and parents because the gifted student “will be fine anyway” and in addition the teachers’ time and energy is being taken away from the other students who need it. It may also lead the gifted child to be bullied. If they don’t spend the time, the gifted student ends up frustrated, resentful and (often) disruptive. Most teachers feel they have no choice but to adopt the latter option and sacrifice the gifted child’s needs for those of the other students in the class. Principals, meanwhile, fear that creating a separate class for gifted students will result in complaints from other parents. In a better world, we would all to learn to support all diversity, including diversity at the upper end but we have to learn how to negotiate the world we’ve got.

    • This reminds me of when my oldest son was in first grade and part of a “pull-out enrichment” class for math at our public school. I asked if I could contact the other parents of kids in the program so we could start a parent group. I was told no – it would make the parents of kids not in the group feel bad, like we think our kids are better than theirs. It’s been the same ever since, but I talk about my boys’ accomplishments anyway.

  13. Tanja says:

    Thank you for this great article. It is nice to see realise that there are others in the same situation.

  14. Chris in Seattle says:

    Could not agree more. Growing up, kids who excelled in school were not considered gifted. Graduating top of class from Harvard doesnt even necessarily make one gifted.

    The number of responses to this article from the parents of “gifted” kids underscores the point. At the end of the day, it’s not about labels but what we accomplish as citizens of the world. Whether it’s Bill Gates, Gandhi, Picasso, Marie Curie, Mandela or even Einstein, I doubt any of these were considered gifted kids.

    The fact that there are so many schools in our city alone for gifted kids maked the entire label laughable. My teacher mother would be horrified if anyone referred to her kids as gifted, even though we were all outliers, academically. As do our kids.

  15. Lake Woebegone says:

    Is it envy or are we all in Lake Woebegone? What is the definition of gifted? It took 200 years to produce one Einstein. Now we have thousands of Einsteins born every year in every town in America. Meanwhile, despite all the gifted kids, most advances in science, medicine, technology etc are being made by foreigners and immigrants. 70% of $ilicon Valley start ups are founded by foreign born technologists.

    I am genuinely puzzled. Are now using the term gifted to mean very bright or top 10 to 20% IQ? Compared to their American peers?

    • Twin Mommy says:

      Without it diving into whether your claims about Silicon Valley start ups are to, did it ever occur to you that the lack of “American” kids producing advances in science, medicine, etc. might be partially due to the stigmas addressed in this article and the general lack of talent development programs for the gifted in the United States?

    • Princess Mom says:

      Definition of gifted: The top 2% (98th percentile or two standard deviations above the norm) of intelligence begins at about 130-132 IQ. That’s Mensa level. The top 1% (99th percentile or 3 SD above norm) is about 145 IQ. A child like that is eligible for the Davidson Young Scholars Program or Intertel for adults. Einstein and Stephen Hawking are estimated to have IQs above 160. (Neither had ever taken an IQ test.) It’s been documented that are more people in the 99th percentile or above than researchers would expect, statistically speaking.

      But you’re right, in order to fill a “gifted” school with children, school districts usually have to lower the threshold to the 95th (IQ of 125), or even 90th percentile (IQ of 115 or 1 SD) as some school districts around DC have done, in order to have enough students.

  16. Twin Mommy says:

    I would also point out that having a high IQ doesn’t make one Einstein and most parents of truly gifted kids understand that — a high IQ gives the *potential* to do great things, but it isn’t a guarantee. Even with his incredible IQ, Einstein spent most of his adult life developing his theories and worked countless hours towards developing them.

    • Princess Mom says:

      And Einstein spent most of his life *not* being successful. He was a wash-out in school and worked as a clerk in the patent office while making his most famous discoveries.

  17. Marsha JSchmid says:

    This link is to a 2011 documentary made by Susan Jackson of the Daimon Institute in Vancouver, BC on Exceptionally Gifted Children. This is the best resource I know to demonstrate what Profoundly/Exceptionally Gifted children are really like.

  18. Chris in Seattle says:

    Okay then, enough already with the whole gifted angst. If your child writes a great sonata at 5 or the next great novel. Or solves the Arab Israeli conflict. Or discovers the cure for AIDS. Then let’s hear about it. Accomplishments, not test results.

    To Twin Mommy, I am foreign born and never heard any parents talk about their gifted kids, It’s a total white American middle class fixation. With a population of around 300 million, 2% means 600k are “gifted”. In China or India, it would be over a million. So it is of no significance, doesn’t make you any more special than having dimples. Get over yourselves.

    • Red says:

      Why does it bother you so much, Chris? I don’t understand. How do you define “special”? Why is your definition more valid than that of other people? On a more personal level, could it be that you are merely writing this because you yourself feel that you or your children are not “special” enough?

      Being gifted is not just about accomplishments. It’s a thirst for learning and is sometimes accompanied by particular characteristics that make gifted learners different in many ways. I agree that people who don’t fully get it should check out the link to Stephanie Tolan’s essay that was given above.

      Anyway, why so rude?

      • Red says:

        A postscript:

        Maybe the reason why giftedness is considered by some to be a “white middle-class obsession” is because gifted children from other racial/ethnic/economic backgrounds just don’t get the recognition they deserve.

        And if you think that Chinese mothers don’t brag about their gifted or high-achieving (again, not necessarily the same thing) kids, then you’ve obviously never read “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” or “The Joy Luck Club”.

    • Mr. Bigler says:

      My grandfather used to say, “Remember two things. First, no one else is better than you. Second, you’re no better than anyone else.”

      “Gifted” children (or adults) are indeed no more special than someone with dimples, or pimples for that matter. However, anyone who is two or more standard deviations different from the norm with respect to any trait will have a different experience from most people with regard to that trait. This is true for any trait you might care to name, including actors, musicians, olympic gymnasts, artists, authors, motivational speakers, used car salesmen, scientists, hairdressers, and schoolchildren.

      Americans (myself included) love to complain, probably more so than people from most other cultures. That includes American parents of gifted children. If you’re going to chastise them for being typical of their culture, be prepared for a strong backlash, and be prepared to have them not listen to some of the good points you might make along the way.

      To puree a well-known metaphor (and noting that E. coli can live on acetate), While you can catch E. coli with both honey and with vinegar, you’ll still catch more E. coli with honey than with vinegar.

      • Red says:

        With all due respect, Mr. Bigler, what gets me is that no one on this thread has given a hard-and-fast definition of the words “better” or “special” yet. If a person can be exceptionally terrible as a human being (Ted Bundy, Hitler, etc.), what makes us think that some people can’t be considered exceptionally terrific in some way? Yes, all people are entitled to basic human rights, but a society in which no one can be considered special, whether for their intellect, talents, beauty, personality, interests, ideas, charity towards others, or sheer joie de vivre, sounds an awful lot like “Brave New World” to me.

        Also, by simply stating that “Americans love to complain,” you seem to be implying that those complaints are not valid. Let’s apply it to other examples:
        “You can’t make a decent living on this state’s minimum wage. We should negotiate for a salary that will truly help us make ends meet.”
        “Aw, quit complaining. You’re an example of everything that’s wrong with this culture!”
        It’s a way to bypass the issues at hand without truly addressing them.

        In any case, I am glad that you chose to acknowledge that the experiences of gifted individuals are, indeed, somewhat different than people who are considered “average” (as long as we’re on the subject, what’s “average” anyway?).

      • Red says:

        Not to beat a dead horse, but I had another thought:

        Why is it okay to say that gifted kids “are not so special” but not okay to substitute kids with ADHD, autism, learning disabilities, etc., in that context? If you said that parents of LD children just love to complain and are only embodying what’s typical of their culture, you would be shouted down as insensitive and unwilling to support children with a different learning style, and rightly so. Why is it okay to assume that gifted children should be treated that way? Generally, kids who fall toward the higher or lower end of the spectrum have to have their parents fight for an education that suits their abilities. Chris in Seattle might not realize that this is probably more of a problem in the US than in other countries, and that’s why these parents are sometimes perceived as complainers. There is, after all, no guarantee in the Constitution that your child will get an education. Maybe it’s different in other countries. Catering to the middle of the curve exclusively is much less of a tax burden.

  19. Gail Post says:

    Hi. Great, comprehensive review of how envy negatively impacts gifted children and their families. I fully agree with you. I hope it’s not too spammy if I share a recent blog post I wrote about a similar topic, suggesting that parents need to combat misinformation about giftedness:

    http://giftedchallenges.blogspot.com/2013/06/countering-misinformation-how-parents.html.

    I look forward to hearing more from your blog in the future. The more we can all work together to challenge misconceptions about giftedness, the more these children will thrive academically and emotionally.

  20. s2sully says:

    I am glad that someone has written about this and brought it out in the open to be explored. Even envy within the gifted class, perhaps because of the broader deviations in intellect – with 1, 2 or even 3 standard deviations. Two weeks after a grade skip there was hand sanitizer hidden in my son’s lunch and a club formed against him. I have also generally avoided talking to parents, including parents of gifted, about my child’s grade skip as the experience is generally uncomfortable and judgmental. Why would they assume I did not extensively research it along with taking a quantitative approach with the Iowa Acceleration Scale. There are days I feel alone… because of challenges that most parents cannot relate to. Thank goodness for the web! I would also like to add that if schools were more inclined to differentiate our advanced learners that many of the issues would not be amplified as I experience them now… i.e. the other highly advanced learners that are accessed on the next grade math but forced to do the current grade math wouldn’t then feel so much envy… say when a savy parent makes it happen for their child.

  21. Rachel K says:

    Thanks for a really good overview of this problem. I tend to tough it out with the issue of envy; it’s the other person’s problem. I have a policy of not volunteering information, which would be the case regarding any of my family members and myself as I am quite reserved with what I consider to be my privacy, but will simply answer questions factually if asked, not going into too much detail. I think the listener’s response is their issue! I try to look pleased and cheerful when speaking factually about things which touch on my children’s giftedness; for example, my son’s self-taught computer programming. I am careful not to add any emotionally loaded stuff, such as value words like wonderful, amazing, brilliant. I just give the facts. But you can feel when people are put out by your child and their differentness. Personally I find that the personality traits that can go with giftedness are more of a bugbear for people- like why doesn’t my son want to play football (he hates team sport!) or enjoy doing things in big, noisy, groups with kids making fatuous comments all the time! Difficult to explain that one without accusing other people of being insensitive, crass, boring, fatuous etc!…Lol!
    Clearly these gifted people just don’t want to fit in!…..
    But where would we be without the solace of genius? All the best ideas and inventions have come from hours spent alone. That’s why as a family we love the film ‘Cloudy with a chance of meatballs’! The hero is a typical gifted, lonely, eccentric genius who saves the world…

  22. no-more-apologies says:

    Thanks for this article! I obsess about this issue constantly. Being envied makes me very nervous and now I understand why – I’m like one of those poor chimps who fears being excluded! I’ve always internalized all those accusations of social transgression and played down my abilities and those of my children. Now I’m wondering, are my neighbors really mad at us because we don’t mow the lawn as often as we should?

    And I’ve always been confused about why some people are lauded for their achievements and others reviled – does trying to be modest just backfire? Maybe it’s better to claim higher status? That’s it. From now on I’m going to be gifted and proud, and be a good role model for my kids.

  23. Lynn says:

    This is a wonderful post, I appreciate the academic research. I think that parents feel so awful after talking to certain teachers and perhaps envy on the part of the teacher is one of the reasons why. It is a difficult subject to discuss without feeling snobbish.

  24. wondering says:

    Is there any right way to handle envy? I have lost good friends over this issue. One friend stopped talking to me when I had my first child. Now, a decade later, she finally has the baby she’s wanted for years, and we’re talking again. Perhaps if I had handled the situation better at the time, we’d have stayed friends. On the other hand, maybe there’s just no way to overcome certain differences in circumstance.

    Now I’m asking myself, have I ended relationships with people I’ve envied?

  25. Serendipity says:

    I didn’t have that experience as a child. I had the overwhelming positive experience of acceptance. Teachers generally loved me and celebrated my talents and giftedness. I was a passive, quiet, obedient child in the younger years, and a bit of a respectful nonconformist in the older years. Maybe it was because I also never had much background knowledge– so I didn’t know more than the teachers (although I knew if they were incompetent). I was simply a very quick learner with strong logic and big picture thinking. I asked interesting questions and I tested well.

    Even in high school, teachers tended to like me. I didn’t even do their assignments, and they still liked me. In biology I regularly handed in song lyrics instead of problem sets, and the day before each exam I would walk up to the teacher and say “Can you just summarize for me what this unit is all about.” and he’d give me a quick summary, and that lazy method was enough for me to intuit the exam… and my vague impressions were enough to ace the AP exam at the end of the year, too. Which totally surprised the teacher, I’m not sure if he thought I was a little dim or just a major slacker. I’ll never forget how lucky I was to have my English teacher write “Excellent!! All your own work?? 100%” when I handed in a poem I wrote during class while the other kids were answering the test question on the reading I hadn’t done.

    There was one teacher who disliked me, and even gave me a B in penmanship. My fifth grade teacher. I hated him, too. But we weren’t enemies because of my giftedness– although he did resent the gifted kids because he felt it made the other kids feel inferior (he lectured us on that). No, we were enemies because I was insubordinate and stood up to him, and he knew I could be his downfall. I refused to be a cheerleader during P.E. when he kept forcing all the girls to be the cheerleaders. This teacher wasn’t balanced, actively lecturing us about how we needed to revolt against the school system, and he lectured us about Jesus Christ, and warned us that if the principal walked in he would change topics and we all had to play along.

    I didn’t feel other kids envied me or disliked me because of my easy time with academics. They simply accepted my high academic achievement. Oh, if they found out I didn’t study for the test and aced it, while they studied for hours and got a B or C, they might have showed some disappointment on their faces. But that’s all, it passed. First of all, I never gloated. I’m not sure why– I think that I never felt like I was PROUD for my abilities. They just were what they were. I didn’t understand why others couldn’t get things quickly. I didn’t really feel grateful that I was different– it just was. Also, I think that maybe I threw the kids off because I regularly dared to do things differently– like not doing assignments properly– and got away with it. Maybe my giftedness just presented as strange, like how I wanted to hand out tracts on the properties of zero and infinity. Maybe I was too weird to envy.

    OK, there was one girl. Very bright herself, just made careless mistakes on tests. For some reason she was intensely competitive with me and constantly disappointed to look at my test scores. She competed with me on everything– if I ran faster than her in P.E. she was disappointed. This passed in a year, though, she stopped caring.

    I think, after writing all this out, that maybe the secret to my gliding through school without ostracism was that I kept to myself. I didn’t show off, I didn’t get a kick out of sharing my work, I was usually a very private person, and I didn’t like attention. I didn’t want everyone to look at me because I got some exam score. I didn’t want them to look at me for anything. And really, the only thing I remember being proud of was a drawing I had done– and I lost the drawing contest in the class vote, so I didn’t feel like I was recognized as some kind of elite talent. Yes, I was one of the “smart ones”, but that’s all, i was even too nondescript and lacking trivia knowledge to be called a nerd.

    There were a couple family friends who would laugh at me for using “big” words. I didn’t care, I thought they were ridiculous and dumb. That wasn’t envy, I don’t think.

    My parents never talked about my talents to anyone. They didn’t even talk about it with me. It was simply expected in our family that we each do our best in school, whatever grades might result. They were very hands-off, which is probably why I just skid by on the least effort, but also why I was totally independent and figured out the college thing on my own. Only after I graduated from high school did they proudly tell people about my 99.9 percentile in god knows what, etc. At that point it became embarrassing.

    The only time I remember ever actively hiding something from my classmates was when the school gave a bunch of us an IQ test as 9-year-olds to see if we qualified for the GATE program. I carefully listened to my classmates talk about their scores, but kept quiet about mine, which was higher than all of theirs. When someone asked me what I scored, I kind of evaded the question. But I memorized their scores, because I wanted to understand what these numbers meant. And I felt a secret closeness to the guy who scored closest to me.

  26. Mr. Bigler says:

    It has been interesting to live in the world that Catherine describes for a couple of decades, then leave it for a decade, and then return to it.

    I was an obnoxious smart kid through high school. There was probably some envy mixed in with everything else, but mostly I just felt like I didn’t fit in with most people’s expectations, and I had to put in a lot of extra effort to make myself understood and somewhat accepted. However, I found that I fit in much better with the music & theater kids because it was a context where the academic differences weren’t relevant. More importantly there were plenty of other kids who were equally talented if not more so, and musical and dramatic talents were valued by the general population.

    College was a different world. I fit in much more easily, in academic circles as well as musical ones. Then, for a decade after college, I worked mostly with other geeks, so I continued to enjoy social situations that were largely free from angst over brain power.

    When I became a high school teacher ten years ago, I was suddenly plunged back into the world where I was more of an outlier. At first, it was a bit of a shock and a rude awakening. Didn’t I leave all that behind when I went to college? (To answer my own rhetorical question, “aside, not behind”.) However, with a few more years of wisdom under my belt, I’ve become adept at deflecting the compliments that can lead to awkward follow-up. “Oh, thanks. [Said quickly, with descending pitch and followed by a pause that’s just a little too short for anyone to feel comfortable jumping in.] But anyway I think we were just talking about…” With most people, it only takes one or two of these kinds of deflections before they just stop trying, at which point most of the awkwardness goes away.

    There are still a couple of math teachers whom I think feel a little threatened in some bizarre way, but filtering a few compliments back their way seems to have mostly solved the problem.

    As for my children, both have become adept at masking and making light of the things they’re good at, and deflecting the attention away from themselves. The one time when this failed was when my older daughter was moved ahead a grade in the middle of the school year. Even then, she was academically ahead of the other kids in the higher grade, and she was ostracized and bullied for it (subtly–it started more overtly but the teachers put a stop to it, so the bullies became subtle enough to keep it under the radar). She was savvy enough to be able to assess the social-emotional consequences vs. the academic ones and come to a sound, rational decision, which was that she needed to move back to her original grade and find other ways of being challenged academically. We had the school do this, the bullying went away, and suddenly she was enjoying school again. Her teachers give her some open-ended assignments, so she does still manage to find a little challenge in school. Moreover, she’s throwing more and more of her energies into competitive gymnastics in much the same way as I used to throw mine into music.

  27. Val says:

    Thumbs up, Twin Mommy!

  28. Douglas Eby says:

    Thanks for this stimulating post. In a very real sense, everyone may be called “underachieving” regardless of whether they are gifted or not. One short definition is “Performance below potential.” But high ability and giftedness are much more than advanced potential, high scores and notable achievements. What really matters in talking about underachievement is the inner experience of “falling short of potential” – how that impacts our identity, esteem, life satisfaction and mental health. – Read more in my post “Adult underachievement: not living up to our high potential” which includes a video excerpt from the 90 Minute Webinar Presentation by SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted) “Understanding and Treating Anxiety, Depression, Bipolar Disorder and Underachievement in Gifted Children, Adolescents and Young Adults” – presented by Jerald Grobman, M.D. http://highability.org/395/

  29. Birgitte Skovgaard Kjølby says:

    Spot on.

  30. Andrew says:

    Have to agree with Serendipity.

    It’s a good article. But not sure why there is a focus in the article (and moreso in the comments) on the problems of being a gifted child. Being able to do well in school is a great blessing. It makes you popular with teachers and other kids tend to look up to you.

    I’ve found much greater difficulties as an adult. In the workplace, there aren’t objective tests to measure your performance. Jealous bosses and co-workers can effortlessly undermine you without recourse.

    When it got to the point when I was completely uncomfortable being myself and performing at anywhere my potential, I quit and started my own company.

    My son shows a lot of ability. The focus with him is on preparing him for being different as an adult. In the meantime, school should be a breeze.

  31. krentz says:

    Hey.

    To be honest, I’m not sure whether or not I would fit the criteria for giftedness (particularly in light of my having taken no such assessments during my youth; I wasn’t aware they were available, or at least wasn’t all that interested) although I was certainly intellectually precocious during my childhood. I have often found it interesting that so much attention is placed on giftedness and signs of advanced capacities in children, yet very little attention paid with regards to the ways in which these latent potentials shape their lives as they grow older. It makes sense, of course, being that neuroplasticity is at its peak in youth, and our experiences while we are young affect us deeply and profoundly, and can significantly alter the baseline from which our adult identities are constructed. I get that.

    However, there are a number of issues I would take with the content in the article. Firstly, the matter of envy itself; I would say that in most cases, those who are envious are actually lusting after their idealised perception of what a particular thing or experience is, as opposed to its reality. I suppose my problem isn’t with the article itself insomuch as the social dynamics that would make such behaviours commonplace. It’s a very disillusioning experience to have grown up and found that adults are prone to the same kinds of insecurities and social games that I experienced during a lot of school myself. (Please note that I’m not saying I’m perfect, either. I have many issues, a notable one of which being emotional maturity, and I’m very aware of them, or try to be anyway.) When viewing the authority of adults in that light, it almost seems as though we were lied to, no? ‘Do as I say, not as I do’.

    I suppose I just take exception to the parents that try to live vicariously through their children because the children themselves are individuals. Their accomplishments and their personalities, whilst nurtured and supported by their parents, are nevertheless independent of them. Therefore I can’t help but feel the degree to which many parents invest their egos into their children becomes harmful for the child when the focus is taken away from the child. I also must profess I don’t entirely understand teachers who feel threatened, either. Why did they become teachers? Was it not to inspire the younger generation? Was it not because they are passionate about their subject? I believe that all of the best teachers are lifelong learners at heart, and the moment we exalt ourselves on our superiority and authority, and think of ourselves as “experts”, in so doing we close our minds and our hearts to continued growth and learning.

    I haven’t worked in an educational setting myself, so my comments may be of limited value, but… whilst I may not appreciate the disruptive effects of having been corrected during the course of my lesson plan, I wouldn’t feel too threatened by younger people knowing more than myself. Perhaps a more insecure side of me would feel disheartened… but at the same time, I would also be incredibly grateful. Problems like this happen when we become too attached to our ‘need to be right’. Why do scientists research? Why do artists create? I’d wager to say that the driving forces at the centre of both are not incomparable: innate curiosity and a need for expression. I won’t lie; when I was younger, I had a grandiose ego and was highly self-absorbed, and this trait may have somewhat endured (though I never consciously intend to cause others harm or manipulate them – actually, my self-esteem is often unstable) but as I’ve aged I’ve tried to put things in perspective. Is it not the search for ‘truth’ that’s important? Whether it is personal (subjective) truth, or external (objective) truth. Yes, I’d probably feel a little uncomfortable if a younger person corrected me, but I would also feel honoured, insofar as we were united in our passion for and interest in a subject. ‘Teaching is assisted discovery’ after all. And if I thought a younger person knew more than I did then it would light a fire up my backside for sure!

    I should also point out that innate capacity itself, devoid of context, is not a reliable predictor of achievement, nor is it necessarily any easier to live with (in fact I may be controversial and suggest that amongst intellectuals and creatives there is a disproportionate number of people with personality disorders and mental illness, commonly depression; of course, William Blake was a notable exception). I’ve experienced it as a highly isolating experience, as not many people can necessarily understand what I’m talking about if I am expressing my views and ideas sincerely, and while I can certainly enjoy interaction with others on an emotional level, I also need some degree of intellectual stimulation as well. School was difficult because I was characteristically ostracised and bullied by mostly everyone. In retrospect, I may have come off as being arrogant and aloof, but that really wasn’t my intention at all. In truth I was highly socially oblivious and paid more attention to my inner worlds than the outer one, but I never bore any ill will towards anyone. I had a few friends that I clicked with and tended only to require a couple at a time as I’ve always had an introverted temperament and prefer depth to breadth. I was also (and continue to be) a massive geek so that really wasn’t helping my case much.

    But as an adult I’ve become somewhat demotivated due to a number of reasons. Without going into a diatribe about what I perceive to be the moral complicity of society and the sociopathy of its leaders, I also feel that the educational establishment is a microcosmic world, segregated from larger society (mostly for the convenience of adults), and as such is patently unrealistic. We’re constantly told how important the next tests are, how important it is to achieve academically. Those of us not fortunate enough to possess the desire nor the aptitude for academia have no choice in the matter. We’re ushered along on this railroad for no ultimate purpose other than to learn how to leap over the next hurdle. We may be asked ‘what’ we want to be when we grow up, but I can’t ever recall having really been asked ‘why’. There is a lack of real and substantial engagement. I was very sheltered in youth, mostly self-imposed due to a desire not to participate in the sexual promiscuity and substance abuse of my peers (another argument altogether), so entering into wider society was an interesting experience.

    I had withdrawn from my University course due to difficulties with my personal life, which was one blow; but it also struck me that I had never really interacted with the wider world on its own merits before. I was always thinking of myself as ‘too young’. Business and economics were too dry for my taste (still are, although I know they’re necessary evils). Suddenly I had to confront society as it exists devoid of my youthful illusions, and I realised just how little I really knew. In my opinion, we need to promote a more empathetic and a more connected society. Many of the problems experienced today such as lack of discipline in younger people can be attributed to a lack of genuine human connection, as if our only reasoning is the fear of reprisal then we have neither compass nor conscience. I understand that young people are more vulnerable and more impressionable, and I also know of the harm that premature exposure to certain environments can have on a developing mind (such as child stars for example). However, I really do think that we would stand to benefit from greater communication between schools, businesses and parents, and a more holistic and inclusive approach could only be to our benefit. Unfortunately, self-interest and restrictive and arbitrary red tape do as much to hinder progress as anything I’ve ever known. I suppose I’ve always been a bit of an idealist. However, I also really haven’t done much of anything in life (yet), either. Analysis paralysis is a common problem, and the source of my motivation itself wasn’t necessarily grounded in reality, so this has been difficult to come to terms with.

    And as for this comment by Karen:
    “To see high ability kids choosing a life of monotonous drudgery because their passion has been extinguished is heartbreaking. I hope that in my small efforts, I have shown a few kids ways to keep the fires of learning alive.”

    Regardless of whether or not I can lay claim to such a label, I still want to thank you on behalf of everyone you have helped and everyone who may have dealt with similar feelings. It’s also painful for me to read because I have to confront the extent to which I’ve “dropped out” myself. I suppose there are many reasons, all of which would be terribly self-pitying to express publicly. But I don’t think I’ve ever really lost the sense that I should be doing more than I am, either. Heavens knows if I’ll find what it is, but passages like this serve as a poignant reminder that it’s not wrong to feel this way, either. Thank you.

  32. Pingback: Gifted Research | Annotary

  33. Matt says:

    I did not read this whole thing, but it seemed to miss a crucial point: there is a difference between communicating information about your gifted child and bragging. I know parents of gifted kids who have a restrained, adult way of relating that is wholly relatable and noncompetitive. I have a child who is gifted in a couple areas, and one in particular he is something of a prodigy. I am very careful not to rub this in the faces of other parents. Some don’t want to hear anything and that is their issue, some are open and will ask and I am happy to share, but am careful about HOW I share. Yes, I am proud but it is my responsibility to communicate to others in a way that respects them. Exercising maturity and restraint, feeling the line between your child’s accomplishment and your own, expressing compassion, these are all fundamental components of healthy communication and relationships. Parents of gifted kids can be perfectly delightful or downright insufferable. Parents also can be completely delusional about their kids’ “giftedness”. Spend 15 minutes at a little league game with some dads. You’ll be asking yourself: “are we looking at the same kid?”. So before you go too far on the “gifted child” routine, be sure to check your work, justify your answers.

  34. Xigua says:

    I just want to comment on the post about Asian people and the expectation to excel and giftedness. (Background: I am Asian, I was brought up with an expectation to achieve in Singapore, and I now live in the USA, where as the parent of a very bright child I have been required to take part in all the gifted testing experiences that are the only way to access advanced or gifted programmes here).

    Certainly, it is true that Asian people do not talk very much about “giftedness” as a distinct characteristic of a person. That is not to say parents are not competitive or boast – they certainly do, with fangs and claws – but they very rarely attribute it to so idea of their child being gifted – it is more like every parent of every child lives with the expectation that their child can achieve or excel, so long as they work hard enough. Hence, in countries like Singapore, on top of usual school, everyone has tutors to help them get top grades. Tutors = extra work. No one, not even the parents with kids who are bright, slack on making sure their children work hard. Parents there basically push their kids to the very limits of their abilities, whatever that might be. However, even in Singapore, in the very top public schools (where I was at) you get one or two kids each cohort who are, very obviously, waaaay ahead of the curve. So, I think every kid in my school probably had an IQ above 120 (so at least bright), but with all that hard work, almost everyone gets straight As at the A Levels – maybe 4 or 5. The exceptional kids are the ones who get 9 As. Not everyone is allowed to take that many A Levels, it is very much guided by the teachers (who I might add are excellent – for one subject, English literature, I had 6 different teachers, each handling an area of specialty – and this was a public school, free education, not a private school – and people wonder why Asian countries produce the grades). Anyway, it is obvious that the education system there provides opportunities for the extremely gifted, while also allowing the bright and moderately gifted with opportunities to shine as well. It has its downsides too (pressure) of course. But anyway, no one really talks about being gifted, not even in Singapore where they supposedly score so well in the PRISM, and also no one COMPLAINS about having a gifted child or living with intensity, etc. I found that very fascinating, here in the US that parents of gifted children constantly moan about how hard it is for them to keep up with the needs of their children – is this also a way of trying to reduce the envy factor?

    When I talk to Asian parents here in the US with our “gifted” kids, invariably they talk about working hard – they say, sure, our kids are smart, but we do work with them too. There isn’t that feeling that being “gifted” is going to be enough. Anyway, now having my kid having to jump through all the hoops to qualify for the school district gifted programme, and being knee-deep in all this, I wonder at the usefulness of the emphasis on giftedness. By all measurable standards, I have a “gifted” child, but how does that help him really, apart from getting access to the programmes? And how does it help with all this social stuff of being ostracised for being “gifted”? I certainly do not talk about him being gifted, nor do I boast about being comparatively wealthy, or boast about anything in fact, as my very instincts of self-preservation warn against that. It is sometimes just downright insensitive – I mean, if someone’s 7 year old can’t read yet, there is no doubt the fact that your 5 year old has finished the whole Harry Potter series with The Chronicles of Narnia for dessert is going to make them feel bad. Just as I tell my child when he wins a board game to be gracious about it and encouraging to the other child, I think parents with advanced kids could be more concerned about other people’s feelings (and to expect them to pity you for your problems with your gifted child is seriously expecting far too much of human nature). And sure, sometimes it just is “revealed” that your child is advanced when they do or say something, and you don’t have to apologize for it or be self-deprecating, and in that case it is up to the other parent to cope with it emotionally. If it means you are no longer friends, it happens unfortunately. The insistence of the gifted label is what makes it so hard in a way, it becomes the haves and the have nots, it separates, it results in the kind of isolation so many parents here talk about. In Asia, you are all united in your quest to make your child excel, no one is excluded from the prize. I am not particularly happy that when my child goes into the gifted programme I will suddenly be forced to deal with all this envy. I really would rather the system was robust enough to provide for all kids, without all this unnecessary disruption.

    In short I think if you (or your kid) are good at anything, or lucky, or gifted, or qualify for special programmes, by all means be happy about it, but don’t expect everyone to genuinely rejoice with you. Why should they? Even the monkeys don’t.

    • Val says:

      Hmm. Well, I think you may be taking a narrow view of things, especially as regards what it means to be gifted (or highly or profoundly gifted). Being very smart means that a person thinks and sees the world around him in a fundamentally different way than almost everyone else. The higher the level of giftedness, the more extreme the differences become. And worse, because of negative attitudes about giftedness, gifties are often forced to hide who they are in order to fit in (because speaking normally for a gifted person would mean constant “revealing” as you say). That gets…wearing. And it’s very isolating. So from my perspective, other people are being insensitive by forcing me or my kids to avoid using “big words” or talk about “big ideas” that might make them feel bad.

      Honestly, your post comes across as being pretty judgmental and, well, uninformed. Personally, I get very tired with gifted people being labeled as “obnoxious” or “boastful” for simply asking that their kids receive an appropriate education. Trust me here: getting straight As or perfect scores on standardized tests isn’t necessarily the best route for a gifted kid. Many gifties like to dig deep and get to the heart of an idea or problem. High-achievement-based education systems, whether here or elsewhere, don’t allow that. It’s just not part of the program.

      If you think that gifted labels are unimportant, the solution is easy. Just don’t sign the papers admitting your kid to the gifted program. If it’s a public school program, it may only be a couple hours per week of fluff, anyway.

      • Xigua says:

        I guess the thing for me is seeing that although different parts of the world obviously have their share of gifted people, the way the US (and UK I think) deals with it is by labelling and making it a very special thing, where as not all other countries do it that way. And it is good to mention how other places deal with it, because surely you want to know all different ways to have a gifted experience? (not just for the child but for the whole family) Hence, when I wanted to design a Math programme for my kid, I looked at how they did it in the US, in Russia, in Asia, and also alternative methods, etc, and I chose the way that made the most sense for my child. However, the “gifted” literature circulating about is dominated by western views (because it is the culture that “specialises” it). You are obviously happy with taking the attitude that everyone else should just accept your kids’ giftedness, and I think that would be great … but the point of this article is that a lot of people can’t. It is human nature to be envious. So you can either buy into a system which exposes you to that aspect of human nature, or you can consider that the system has drawbacks and question why in other places that have gifted people (obviously), they are not exposed to envy and don’t have to suffer all the feelings of isolation and persecution people claim in the US. I might add that the Scandinavian experience of not differentiating along gifted lines is also attracting a lot of attention.

        Note that I am not disputing the existence of “giftedness” (which let’s say is universal), I am questioning the way it is framed (which is culture-specific and a man-made construct).

        Furthermore, I am not saying which system is over all the best for the OVERALL well-being of a gifted person, I am concentrating on the one feature of ENVY, which is the point of the article. And on that point, labelling makes it much easier to envy.

        I wanted to make these last two points really clear, otherwise the discussion gets really unfocussed and people start comparing apples with oranges.

        Let’s remove all the Western/Asian/Scandinavian references and say in the abstract: In one system, which labels and separates, people feel envious or they and their children are victims of envy. In other systems, there is no labelling, and it is harder for people to figure out who exactly to be the target of their envy (which of course exists as it is part of human nature).

        Unfortunately, here, the way to even access advanced material is through the gifted label, so in Rome … in our school district, the gifted ed is a totally pull-out, you just don’t go to “regular” school, you go to special gifted classes the whole time for years and years. But “regular” school has NO option of acceleration, etc. and if you won’t even try the school district’s gifted programme, it is kinda hard to argue for special allowances. Like you, I want “appropriate” education for my child, and here I have to do it with the label. I guess for me, I don’t care about the label, but I do care about the content of my child’s education, and if that means I just have to swallow my criticism of using the label and have to deal with the envy, so be it.

        In the big scheme of things, envy is such a small petty thing. (Of course, one could argue it did lead to the Holocaust, but that is beyond the scope of this post!)

  35. Xigua says:

    You know, the comments above (by Val) are very interesting, and have made me think, what WOULD be the best model to curtail envy?

    I don’t think an approach which aims to change human nature would work particularly well (or perhaps I lack the imagination of how to alter a cardinal sin) because you’d probably have to go at it one person at a time, and that is inefficient, not to mention it is dubious whether it will work. I think we probably have to accepted that no matter what model, there is going to be a degree of envy – the only thing we can change is the way that envy is CHANNELLED.

    I think there is a function between visibility and envy. Is then, the solution to make giftedness “invisible” to the public? In some bizarre way, giftedness is less of a target in achievement-based systems because (it is a fairly well-known fact that) gifted kids often do not achieve in the usual sense of the word. I know a friend who had an profoundly gifted sibling (in the million club in Mensa, or something like that) and he said that his brother came up with the most ingenious, out of the square things all his life, but you know, did not speak till he was 7 years old and come college, my friend did extremely well, but his sibling barely passed his papers. In an achievement-based system, I don’t think the profoundly gifted person would be envied; but on the other hand, you would perhaps want to balance that lack of envy with a more serious problem: is this gifted person being helped? So obviously, a system where giftedness is totally invisible, while probably solving the envy problem, is not desirable because of those very very few who need help with their giftedness.

    For this question, I think we have to balance out the pros and cons of giftedness being visible or invisible to the public.

    Is education then the answer? I think a great deal of the perception of giftedness comes from the public seeing wunderkinder or even just high achievement and associating it with giftedness. Usually there is some correlation between achievement and high cognitive ability, though perhaps not as strong a correlation as people think. Is the education then to show that being smart doesn’t mean you end up achieving? The downside of this is, what does this do for the self-esteem of the gifted children? Do we want to trade envy for … pity? In some ways they get some kudos for belonging to this group which has produced wunderkinder, it harks back to the psychology of role-modelling. On the other hand, the corollary of that is: envy even if you happen to have a gifted child who is NOT achieving.

    I don’t know the answers, but I put these questions out there to stimulate thought. I do get tired of people complaining that others envy them (it isn’t constructive, it doesn’t SOLVE the problem, it is just running around the problem in circles). It may be that we have to live with a certain degree of envy, and perhaps realising that means that we are bothered by it less? I don’t know, certainly all this discussion has reconciled me somewhat to living with some degree of envy, especially if you consider that there are trade-offs. However, as with anything, it can be improved, right?

    • krentz says:

      At the heart of envy lies insecurity. Nobody likes being made to feel inferior, as we are all striving for self-actualisation, acceptance, competence and success in our own ways, based on what we value in ourselves and others. To the degree that giftedness also carries connotations of a fundamentally different way of perceiving and relating to the world, it is largely misunderstood by those who don’t share in this experience. (The fact that there are some egotists and narcissists who construct grandiose false selves and have ego investments in thinking of themselves as ‘different’ and ‘superior’ also doesn’t help the matter; in fact I also question the extent to which this view is reactively adopted as a defense mechanism)

      People dislike things they don’t understand. I have always thought of envy as a rather futile emotion, as if you want something badly enough, surely you should just try to attain it for yourself? However, I think it’s the concept of being denied the ability to do or be something simply on account of inherent genetics that causes the greatest frustration and envy. I was that way when thinking about musicians with absolute/perfect pitch. That is something I will never have or understand due to the way it develops and is expressed. How do these people experience sound? How do they perceive the world? How will this assist in their musical endeavours? Questions I’ll never know the answer to.

      I do think of myself as an underachiever but I’m nowhere near the profound levels of giftedness and cognitive ability I’ve seen mentioned here. Perhaps just merely ‘above average’. I relate a great deal to feeling isolated or different from most people and that was never more true than during my youth, but due to personal and emotional difficulties I haven’t capitalised in a tangible or meaningful way on any potential I might have had. That also gives rise to envy, I suppose. I see people who are multiple times more accomplished than myself and often either feel inferior to them or silently berate myself for my own lack of activity. But that kind of restless perfectionism follows me no matter what or how much I’m doing. That’s the funny thing about it: I understand that I have no idea what it is like to be that person, and I see only my own insecurities and expectations reflected in their visage; as opposed to the full picture. And yet, that reasoning is somehow meaningless on an emotional level. Isn’t a rational comprehension of one’s emotional state yet an inability to consciously control it one of the cornerstones of peoples’ many dichotomous contradictions? I question at what level of spiritual development this sensation lessens or whether it ever truly does.

      Speaking from my limited personal experience, I think that the best course of action is to neither celebrate nor denigrate giftedness, but merely acknowledge it for the differences it implies. It’s like Malcolm Gladwell suggests: it takes 10000 hours of (meaningful) practice to become an expert in something. For all of the personality traits and thought processes that are frequently associated with the spectrum of giftedness, from the perspective of external achievement it can simply be equated with talent. I’ve always taken the view that practice alone is not enough to excel. One can never exceed their natural limits. However, many people never find out exactly what their limits are because they never care to try. The practiced expert will beat out the talented prodigy just about every time. Practice and effort are essential to developing competence in _anything_. While only the innately talented have the potential to become truly exceptional, many people can become pretty damn good. To that extent, effort is far more important than mere talent. Furthermore, as I believe giftedness to be a largely genetic factor (perhaps also influenced to some degree by early childhood experiences) I think it sets a bad precedent for people to become accustomed to coasting through life simply on the merits of their latent capacities, which they have done nothing to achieve. Although I can also understand the frustration inherent to such a view: even if after devoting oneself to the singleminded pursuit of excellence in a given field, and sacrificing other areas of your life to do so, what remains should you realise that you will never reach the highest plateau simply for no other reason that you lack the ability? Perhaps as long as you are passionate about what you do, there is some solace to be found in personal meaning.

      Anyway. To be frank, I don’t believe that envy of giftedness can ever be erased for as long as people equate giftedness with superiority. And given that giftedness often implies advanced cognition in one or more areas, that sense of superiority will remain even if it is detrimental to the individual in other areas of their lives. I don’t believe that the public consciousness should be preoccupied with giftedness as an end unto itself because that kind of hyperfocus not only promotes widespread envy of the few but it also doesn’t help the gifted individuals to learn about that aspect of themselves or apply it to their lives in a wider context or in a constructive way. However, to essentially sweep it under the carpet and pretend it doesn’t exist is not only intellectually dishonest but is also dismissive of the humanity of people who already feel bizarre and isolated as it is.

      I feel that less visibility is a good first step; the problem is this natural human fascination with the ‘difference of giftedness’ because I don’t feel it’s a very holistic view. It should be viewed as an aspect of a person, and as a facet of self-discovery; not something to be proud of (as it is unearned) nor something to attain (as not only do I not think it possible, but it also isn’t necessarily helpful or desirable in and of itself). Perhaps if taking the view that the needs of the many take priority and that sacrifices must be made, then invisibility would be the best choice for the multitude, however I am reluctant to condone the further ostracisation of an already estranged and anomalous group, and I don’t think it’s realistic to expect that people would not start to question those exceptional few of their own accord anyway, as they will surely surface in any civilisation.

      Anyway, no real answers, if only because the ‘problem’ is human nature. Just thinking out loud, I guess. Or on a screen, at any rate.

      • Xigua says:

        Human nature issues do not lend themselves to clear cut answers, but are nevertheless fascinating. Thanks for thinking out loud so thoughtfully – I did find myself agreeing at many points you made and pondering others. I think perhaps you may have hit on the heart of it when you say it is when people are “denied the ability to do or be something simply on account of inherent genetics that causes the greatest frustration and envy”. Hard work on the other hand – well, if you don’t get it because you didn’t work hard enough, you are responsible, it is still within your control, isn’t it? I also agree that hard work trumps inherent ability. When I got to college, where everyone who entered my program was the top of whatever class or school they came from, the main difference between those who were at the top of our group and those who were not: number of hours in the library. The gifted kid who doesn’t put in the hours can’t out-compete the bright kid who works his tail of. I think it was a nasty shock to some that the habits of “coasting” as you put it, were not sufficient anymore, and also, if you did not grow up with the discipline of working hard, it is very hard to cultivate at a late stage.

        I also do agree though that there is a natural limit to where hard work can get us to (your example of perfect pitch was spot on). I think that is why parents tell their kids “So long as you do your best.” I think they really HAVE to believe it, for the sake of their children’s self-esteem.

        Of course, then there is the wild card of luck (another topic for another day).

        I think “giftedness” has increased in visibility quite a bit the last couple of decades or so, probably through the tireless campaigning of parents of gifted children who want educationally appropriate experiences for their children. And when school districts started to respond by providing special services to this group, it hit the mainstream antennae and everyone assumes the teachers and resources must be better. I suppose parents began to feel that if only their kid could get into these classes, then they would be stimulated to start to achieve at a similar level to what a gifted kid might? (so upping the nurture aspect)

        Competition for these spots is fierce – I saw it in the hallways when we went in for testing. Disappointment – and envy – at failure must also be fierce.

        The truth is, when I look at the services provided, I see that they would benefit a lot of bright or even moderately to highly gifted kids, but I seriously doubt if they would necessarily benefit the true outlier, profoundly gifted child. I don’t know if any mass education effort ever could, these people are so rare, and their needs so individual. Yet their parents demand these kids’ needs to be met and the schools scramble to try to get a equitable general fit (that still does not meet their needs but is widely embraced by everyone else), and creates this situation when “gitftedness” becomes a sort of entryway into better services, and all the attendant feelings of envy and deprivation.

      • Normal says:

        It’s not total envy. It’s the fact that many parents of gifted children are constantly talking about how their child exceeds/excels at this or that, which in turn makes us who have average intelligence children feel (falsely) as if our children are inferior, and if our child/ren have to hear it constantly too, imagine how that makes our average children feel.
        Honestly, I believe that this “envy” is not envy totally, but more a frustration and anger that we have, in a way, to defend our average children. Yes, there is some envy there; who wouldn’t want to be of high intelligence? But do you constantly have to remind us? You make us feel inferior, and it sends a message that our children are not good enough, which in turn develops into a self-esteem issue. However false it may be, it becomes very real when my child hears you speak of how amazingly smart your child is, all the time. Keep that in mind.

      • krentz says:

        Hi Normal,

        At the risk of coming across as being either unintelligent or condescending, I’m somewhat perplexed by the way you’re able to arrive at the conclusions you have by replying to the passages you have. I think we may be misunderstanding each other.

        “At the root of envy lies insecurity. Nobody likes being made to feel inferior […]

        To the degree that giftedness also carries connotations of a fundamentally different way of perceiving and relating to the world, it is largely misunderstood by those who do not share in the experience.”

        The implication here, of course, being that, rightly or wrongly, giftedness carries connotations of superiority, especially to those who don’t understand the subjective experience. While it’s true that gifted people often display advanced competencies in one or more areas, to look at it solely from the outside in is a rather shallow approach that doesn’t fully encapsulate what it means to live as that person. It is no secret, and debatably no coincidence, that many of the world’s most creative people also struggle with depression and other mental health issues. Of course, many also do not, but there is still a large part of their character to which others struggle to relate, and people who are unusually talented in one area of life are often sorely lacking in others.

        By only comparing oneself to the image projected, it’s only natural for people to become envious – a form of envy that, as I already mentioned, is rooted in the insecurity that arises as a result of perceiving oneself as inferior. A perception that, were one to look at the whole picture, is in my opinion somewhat misguided. The grass is always greener on the other side; higher intelligence (regardless of it is defined) does not always mean an easier or more fulfilling life, and not all gifted people are overachievers. I believe there are a good number that also fall through the cracks or otherwise fail to live up to their potential.

        I would also point out that this very same fundamental misunderstanding also applies to the parents who are so insensitive and arrogant as to brag about their childrens’ accomplishments in such a crass way. Emotional support and encouragement is almost necessary, of course, and some people perceive arrogance where there is none to be found. However I also do think there are a good number of parents like you describe and I find them equally distasteful for their insensitivity and lack of perspective. (Furthermore as much as I dislike braggarts in general, why would you want to boast about something someone else has achieved? People who live vicariously through their children are a little sad, in my opinion…)

        Lastly, I don’t know whether you addressed me as one of such people simply for the sake of making an argument or whether you actually believe me to be that way. I’m ambivalent towards the term ‘gifted’ for many of the reasons mentioned, but I do believe I can relate somewhat to the traits described. However, I’m not so arrogant as to consider myself in the same class as anyone who is truly exceptional, and much of the potential I might have had in youth has gone by largely unapplied for numerous reasons. I simply find it interesting to read different opinions of the phenomenon, if only because it is not only so widely misunderstood but also largely inconsequential in adult life if one struggles to adapt to the many changes and demands it brings.

  36. Val says:

    I agree that most of the services currently offered to HG+ (highly gifted or more) kids aren’t really great. Part of the problem, IMO, is that educators don’t understand what HG+ actually means and that a HG+ student can advance in ways that other kids simply can’t.

    I see the envy problem in part as an assumption that gifted kids will all be fine and won’t have to work for things the way that most other people do. Gifties know that this isn’t true, but the perception is there. And it’s true that being smart gives a person more choices, so there’s probably resentment there, too.

    But, honestly, I think that one of the most important reasons to identify giftedness is so that a person knows s/he has a talent. You can’t develop a talent if you don’t know it’s there.

    It’s much easier to know if you have a gift for something like athletics, because the evidence is just so easy to see much of the time: Marion runs faster than everyone. Joey throws the ball twice as far as all the other kids in his class. Etc. And our society goes to great lengths to develop athletic talent.

    But with high cognitive ability, a person can’t really know much more than “I seem to learn stuff fast,” There’s no basis for comparison the way there is with, say running, and no way to know just how different your thought processes really are from (almost) everyone else’s. And worse, our schools seem to actively hold back their most capable students. Sure, Asian societies are good about celebrating achievement in school, but this is very, very different from allowing HG+ people to understand that they have unique and very wonderful abilities. Not knowing this can hinder talent development.

    • Xigua says:

      Do you think it is possible for mass public school to cater to the needs of a highly gifted individual?

      The thing is, programmes are developed when there are enough people who need them or benefit from them. Your highly gifted person is by definition pretty rare, and one might like math and the other art or music or perhaps does even know yet what would spark them … I don’t know if it is reasonable to expect society to pump that many resources toward what is essentially a wild card – potentially (mind-blowingly) rewarding, but you have no idea really what the return is going to be. If you think of it in terms of the stock market, the gifted person is a very risky stock.

      As a parent, it is enough for us that our child thrives, for his or her own sake, even if there was no tangible reward or result. But why should anyone else spend their tax dollars on it? In the “real” world, unfortunately, people value what is tangible. Basically, you do this for me, I give this to you (ie, a job). So if you are capable (and can prove it, and then produce) you have a high chance of being rewarded. If you are innately brilliant, but it is all happening in your head and you can’t show it, and can’t produce, who is going to support you in exchange?

      On a different point, it is interesting to compare with the attitude toward sports … it seems (to me) people are always pushing the limits of physical ability (can we go faster, can we break the record). I mean there’s even an Olympics for that. But there’s the attitude that cognitive ability doesn’t need further development, it’s almost like people think if you have it, you’re set, you’ve reached the limit already … there’s no attitude of, we’ve got to keep them at this level, we need to see if we can make them even smarter (which some gifted supporters deny is possible), let’s see if we can top Einstein … (lol, it sounds bizarre even as I type this, but should it be bizarre? or is it that we somehow are just not used to thinking like this?) How should we be thinking of developing cognitive ability?

      The OTHER thing about sport though it that it is cut-throat competitive. Sure, athletic ability may be more valued by society than giftedness, but public adulation is fickle. The fans of today can become your bitterest critics tomorrow. They’ve paid for their tickets, they’ve given their emotional investment, it is their right to be upset, angry, elated, ride on the coat tails of your success. There is only one winner, one gold medal. It is implicit that everyone else are losers. It is the price you pay in sport. I am not sure I want to bring that sort of culture and attitude into the gifted education domain.

      • Mom of Gifted Kids 2014 says:

        My children are entitled to an appropriate education, same as everyone else. Why should we be funneling tax dollars to pay for the education of disabled individuals then? Isn’t that just as much of a wild-card, since many of them will never go on to develop “successful” careers? In our school district, we have profoundly autistic kids who are non-verbal yet they receive thousands of dollars in accommodations (e.g., private aides, etc.) each school year. Yet we can’t spend $50,000 a year on a program to help the gifted students, who likely have the highest potential of actually contributing something to society? I pay tax dollars too and right now my tax dollars aren’t even being used to educate my own kids. Should I be entitled to a refund?

      • Xigua says:

        This article discusses your point more (and incidentally, mentions gifted screening in Singapore): http://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2014/03/15/the-poor-neglected-gifted-child/rJpv8G4oeawWBBvXVtZyFM/story.html

  37. Jeanne says:

    IMO, there would be fewer problems with envy if a term other than “gifted” were used.

  38. overexcitable says:

    Reblogged this on Overexcitable and commented:
    Now this really goes to the core of one of the main sources of pain in the life of a gifted person.

  39. Raj says:

    Loved the post. Good to see someone backing their post with references. I am glad that while growing up I did not encounter any of those envied teachers (except may be one). But, I surely had problems with other kids who tried to bully me. This blog is making me feel that envy in teachers is more common than I encountered. In my case, teachers are the ones who shielded me from bullies. May be I am just lucky.

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