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Gifted Kid Burn Out

October 5, 2020

When I was in elementary school, the best thing I could hear out of a teacher was that they had high expectations for me. Now, as a senior in high school, it’s the worst possible thing I could hear.

“Gifted kid burnout—a term coined by youth on the internet to discuss their experiences growing up as a ‘gifted student,’” Aofie Trotter of Spire Magazine stated. “They are describing perfectionism, the subconscious resistance to challenge, and feelings of low self-worth which they attribute to gifted programs in public schools.”

As a gifted kid, I was sorted into groups that were meant for “high achieving” students. These groups were filled with the same ten to fifteen kids all labeled as the gifted bunch. Not only did this spark a superiority complex in our young impressionable minds, but it ostracized us from the rest of our class.

“Research on social adjustment and development of highly gifted children suggests that the more highly gifted the child, the more likely there will be less than optimal social and emotional adjustment….On the outside they looked more socially mature, but on the inside they experienced more loneliness, isolation and peer difficulties than moderately gifted children,” D. V. Lovecky in a National Association for Gifted Children article stated.

Many gifted kids can relate to the struggle of being stuck with the misbehaving kids, acting as a mini authoritative figure to them rather than being their friend. The high expectations that teachers placed on these students may have been a fun show of their maturity, but this labeled them as bossy and unfavorable to their fellow classmates.

We treated ourselves as if we were matches, allowing ourselves to be consumed by our own aspirations until we were nothing but a flimsy piece of burnt wood.”

“Gifted students also face individualistic mental health issues as a population such as ‘stress, anxiety, depression and destructive perfectionism,’” Trotter stated. “It is estimated that 15-20 percent of high achieving students will struggle with the high expectations set by themselves and others during their academic career and beyond, which can actually reduce their academic success.”

As I moved past my formative years of education, these gifted kids moved to accelerated classes, whether it was IB, AP, or honors, and as time went on, these classes gradually became smaller and smaller. The more time went on, the more I saw myself and my “gifted” peers start to fall victim to our own high expectations. We treated ourselves as if we were matches, allowing ourselves to be consumed by our own aspirations until we were nothing but a flimsy piece of burnt wood.

“According to a study done in 2009, many gifted kids are ‘shaped’ into their future paths not only by their own wishes and aptitudes but by what society believes gifted people should grow up to do,” writer JR Thorpe in a Bustle article stated. “It found that gifted kids were more likely to have quite low social self-esteem, and to channel their abilities into one particular field, usually [higher level classes or STEM subjects] because it’s what society expects of people with the label.”

While the praises from teachers growing up were meant to do no harm, many ex-gifted kids feel as if they’ve grown to be disappointments to their once “promising future.” The expectations that were started in their childhood have severe consequences on how these ex-gifted kids look at themselves. Positive reinforcement is not bad, but gifted kids never saw themselves as a regular kid with regular emotions; they only defined themselves by their aptitudes and school performances, never being their own person.

“You may be smart,” my mother once said. “But that intelligence is nothing without a good personality.”

However by the time she had said that to me, it felt like it was too late in life. My entire life was built around awards and reports. There was nothing left of the person I was, except something that looked good on the fridge door. Once the awards get taken down from the fridge, the Facebook posts are liked, and the white gown and cap gets put on you, what is left for a gifted kid who was told the only significance in school was an ambiguous letter grade?

1 Comment

One Response to “Gifted Kid Burn Out”

  1. Emma Thurgood on January 13th, 2021 5:56 pm

    Someone put it into words… Thank you

    As someone who was in an accelerated program when I was younger, I was so proud of myself. I had a natural high intelligence that got me through elementary school with ease. It wasn’t until later, when I left that I realised how damaging it is.
    In my programs, there were only 10-ish kids, 2 others from my class. And I was the only girl. So I was proud, but I was also ostracized. It felt like I was banished from the rest of my class. I ignored this and went into fictional worlds via books.
    When I went into middle school, I was unprepared. I had all accelerated classes and I failed math immediately. My ‘natural intelligence’ was gone when everyone else caught up. I had forced myself to live up to these expectations but I couldn’t do it anymore. I had always been good at first try, so when I wasn’t it felt like a slap to the face.
    Additionally, I had immeasurably poor social skills. I could only talk with teachers, I was used to that. I could do that, but when it got to kids my own age? I had to build these skills that most people learn in first grade. I was lonely, and felt worthless and suddenly being “gifted” became synonymous with “cursed”.
    I loved my accelerated classes but they prevented my from building social skills, a good work ethic or a confidence to fail. I had no friends, no motivation and no self-esteem.
    I feel like these programs shouldn’t have as much influence as teachers give them.

    In any case, Thank you for writing this. It’s nice to know someone understands.

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