As most teenagers, gifted teenagers usually possess the drive to explore what lies beyond the family world, and to redefine new limits. While having this inner desire to expand their horizons (with new experiences, new friends, new thinking, etc.), they also need their parents in their transition toward adulthood. It could be easy to forget that even though our young looks quite like us physically, his emotional needs are still strong, as his needs for safety, solidity, references. And, the art of parenting a gifted teenager may be summed up as: allowing our child to sense our presence, our trust and our limits, while encouraging him in further opening his enthusiastic wings.
It is interesting to observe bright and talented teenagers: they tend to have an amazing ability to analyze and see the flaws in most situations, while often being immature in certain of their behaviours, and oblivious to their impacts on others. This is not to say that gifted teenagers are immature, they usually are far more mature than their age peers, but owing to their shortage of life experience they can be led into thinking that their theoretical ideas automatically translate in reality.
Because they are prone to thinking, learning and have been doing so since they were little children, they usually have amassed a large amount of knowledge on life, people, things, and they can have developed what one may call a ‘Know-It-All’ mindset. The gifted teen may lack self-confidence, but there usually is a deep, unconscious sense of knowing her worth (this is not the first of the paradoxes!). As a result of this impression that she knows more than others, she may be quite stubborn, and rejecting of outer influences or opinions. And, her attitude is logical: when you consider that she has essentially been surrounded by people whose views she did not share, it seems natural to develop a strong sense of intellectual self-reliance and to leave others at bay.
However bright and gifted at seeing various layers in any given situation, the teenager still lacks experience in life and her grandiose ideas may conflict with reality. I believe this is one area where parents of gifted teenagers can and need to support their offspring.
Being able to stay calm in the face of a heated discussion with your child, keeping in mind a sense of perspective, while gently offering alternative view points to your exalted teenager, can help ease his coming of age, and instill in him a habit of reasonable questioning (ideally, you began this practice when he was a child).
Remaining calm and cool-headed matters greatly for several reasons :
First, it is easier to respect someone who does not attack you when you become emotional, as children and teenagers are prone to. It is easier for the teen to come and talk to you if she trusts that her parents will remain composed and balanced – even though you may still need to vent your feelings privately afterwards. As a result, your child will also be more receptive to your input, and wisdom.
Second, as you stay calm, your teenager will take you more seriously and will realize that his occasional provocations are not enough to destabilize you. How reassuring for the teenager whose references are being redefined to know that his parents are solid and able to weather his storms!
Third, you will give him an example of what respectful communication looks like, and even if he is not able to emulate you, at this point, be sure that you have planted a worthy seed for the future.
I understand how difficult it can be to stay calm for parents when they hear of their teenager’s actions, experiences and the hyper-logical arguments that supported them. The teen may have been convinced of the rightness of his approach, supporting it with his research and profound analysis, and, as parents, you have an opportunity to coach him in questioning the reasonability of his endeavours.
Striving not to take things personally, avoiding blaming comments such as ‘How do you think this makes me feel?‘ or ‘What were you thinking when you did this?’ are important. Your teenager probably had no clear idea about what prompted her behavior, otherwise chances are she would not have done it (or perhaps, she wanted to try it out for herself, without necessarily intending harm). Remember that she is learning, and you are her guide. You can chose what type of guide you want to be!
Instead of verbally attacking, you can take a few grounding breaths, manage your emotions, and calmly ask general questions to better understand what led your teenager in this direction – for the sake of inviting discussion and reflection: ‘What facts make you think that this may be true?’, ‘Do you know anyone who behaves in such a way?’, ‘How do others usually react to these behaviours and words?’.
You may even leave the conversation open at this point, and allow your child to reflect independently. After some time, you may go back to her and enquire about her thoughts, and whether she stills thinks the same, or would do the same, with the new information she has in her possession. And, even if your child has shifted and come to your conclusion, I recommend a quiet and humble closure, and avoiding ‘I told you it was true’, or ‘I’m so happy you changed your mind!‘. Hearing such comments can be really disheartening, and counterproductive!
Parents of Gifted Teenagers can experience a great deal of stress, as their teen is now physically stronger, exposed to more influences, and they cannot place him in a bubble. It is tempting to resort to controlling, isn’t it? But, what if instead you were able to manage your strong emotions and learn to see how calmness can influence your connection with your child? Are the fears real or imagined? How could you first do your inner work, and give yourself the advice that you readily share with your gifted teenager? I am not minimizing the difficulty of this, and you may have to face shadows thoughts and beliefs that need to be cleared if you are to relate healthily with your growing child.
And even if your teenager seems defiant and detached, know that things can change and that deep down she craves for a strong connection with you.
Are you facing certain challenges in guiding your creative and sensitive teenager, and would you be willing to share with us what these challenges are? You are certainly not alone.
Marion Franc offers different services to support intuitive and talented children, teenagers, and their parents work with their child’s sensitivities and abilities. She works with families in Paris, and via phone/skype – in English, French and Spanish. To explore working together, please send an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Caring for the Gifted Child