It can be challenging to manage your gifted teen’s moodiness, demanding behavior, and heightened self awareness, while providing the validation, attention and love they need. In someways, the emotional roller coasters that emerge are like those we saw when they were toddlers, except now they are 100 pound young adults throwing tantrums which can be impossible to control. It is our job to help them navigate safely through this storm to the other side.
As our gifted children move into their teens, like others kids, they are likely to be more emotionally intense with intense hormonal shifts, and will begin moving away from us as they try to figure out who they are and where they fit in in the world. Gifted teens often struggle more intensely than others, as many are perfectionists, can difficulty finding a peer group, have greater emotional sensitivity, and could be prone to anxiety and existential worry. Gifted teens are at risk of deciding school isn’t for them, especially if their academic and social needs aren’t met. Some even drop out. If they have difficulty finding a peer group or if they’re bullied it’s even worse because it can more deeply affect their development of a healthy self identity.
How do we maintain a connection through this turbulent time, when our gifted teens need us the most, but are actively pushing us away? Some of the hostile behavior, anxiety and chaos can be reduced by maintaining clear, realistic and fair family rules that are developmentally appropriate for your gifted teen. Here are some ideas for structuring your family life and interacting with your gifted teen, that can improve your relationship with them.
1. Be empathetic. Remember, you were a teen once too. It can be hard. Providing emotional validation, and acknowledgment of their feelings helps them to feel understood by you. The objective isn’t to agree, but to let them know you understand what they are going through.
2. Don’t embarrass or humiliate them.
3. Avoid power struggles that result in screaming matches. One way to accomplish this is to be matter of fact. Being firm (yet calm) and sticking to the acts can take the charge out of many arguments.
4. Allow our gifted teen to to share their interests with you, even if you think you are not “in to” whatever it is. This will show them you are interested in them, and their ideas are valuable to you.
5. Spend one on one time together doing something you both enjoy, at least one time per month, and try to “touch base” for at least 20 minutes a day.
6. Meet their friends, and show an interest in them and how they spend their time together without prying, spying or criticizing.
7. Avoid judgmental critical or accusatory statements like, “The problem with your generation is….”, “You know what your problem is….”, and “If you weren’t so [lazy, stupid, boring, weak, etc.]. These types of statements convey a negative judgment of your loved one which can harm fragile self esteem, will make them feel defensive, and will erode your relationship over time.
8. Empower your gifted teens to make some decisions whenever possible. This can promote independence, build self confidence and show you trust them. Even if they make a mistake they are learning from the process, are growing as individuals, and are gaining the autonomy we all value. Feel free to give them options to choose from which are acceptable to you instead of telling them what to do. And if they make a mistake, be kind and empathetic while holding them accountable.
9. Acknowledge good choices, desirable behavior and accomplishments. Positive reinforcement goes a long way in encouraging good conduct, building self esteem and better relationships.
10. Have family meetings which encourage all family members to have a voice in issues that effect the entire family.
It is also important to have your own community support. Connecting with other parents, friends and supportive adults can help. If your gifted teen is struggling, or you are having difficulty making a connection with them, don’t hesitate to reach out to a trained professional in your area. Sometimes, all that’s needed is a little extra support to get through the rough times.
About the Author: Christy, is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist and Somatic Experiencing Practitioner, practicing in San Diego, California. She has nearly 10 years of experience working with children, teens, parents, families, couples and individual adults with complex psychological and relationship problems. She specializes in the needs of gifted, bright and high achieving people, as well as those who have suffered past trauma. Christy uses an eclectic approach, meeting the needs of whomever she is working with. Her work addresses the needs of the whole person, incorporating mind and body.