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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi everyone. I haven't posted in a while, so I will do a brief reintroduction: my children are 10 and 13 and fall somewhere in the highly gifted category. We are living in Germany while my husband and I (both professors) are on sabbatical.

Here is my issue (well ONE of them, anyway...): I am often troubled by the language we parents use to talk about our very bright children and wonder what effect it has on their self-concept. For example, I often read or hear (not here at MDC, but more generally) people say that their bright child is 'scary' or 'way too smart' or express their wish that their child were 'normal'. Or: "He/she is too smart for his/her own good"

Do we choose these phrases because we are used to defending ourselves, or parenting, our children? Perhaps we use 'negative' terms to fend off criticism that we are 'bragging' or 'too pushy' or 'too invested' in our children's acheivements? Or is it veiled bragging? What do you think?

And one non-family example of the use of negative language: we pulled our 13-yo out of school and homeschooled him this year when it came out that he was being beaten up for money (long story for another time). During one of his exiting converstations with the director of the (private school), she told him: "I know being as smart as you are is a curse"

How does this type of language effect our children's self-image? Why do parents and teachers use it? I'd love to hear your ideas!
 

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I would not generalize this tendency to all parents and teachers. There are people in the world who do not think first when they speak and they use language with others that they do not realize is demeaning to that person. For example, there are parents who tell their child they are 'bad' when they do something wrong. The child who hears this enough grows up to believe they are bad, rather than the behavior. Child development books tell us it is better to tell the that the behavior is wrong or bad, rather than the child.

Some people also stick their foot in their mouth when they are talking to people they resent a bit or people they have a hard time dealing with. Either inadvertently or on purpose, they say things to these people that put them down slightly. It is a kind of passive-aggressive power trip. I had a Japanese-American principal once tell a black student of mine that because he was so dark he needed to work extra hard at following the rules so that society would not stereotype him as an aggressive black male. She said this in a conference with him, his parents, and myself. I was shocked but later came to realize that this was the principal's way of establishing power in a passive-aggressive manner. She was a horrible principal, with the worst communication skills of any principal I have worked with. I cannot figure out why her bosses let her work as a principal for so long without reprimand.

Of course, one cannot generalize to the entire world. Perhaps parents and teachers say things like this because they are human and they occasionally stick their foot in their mouth and say something they really don't want to say out loud. We all need to censure ourselves sometimes. Perhaps your son's school director told your son that being this smart is a curse because he/she is tired of dealing with the precociousness of really gifted and intelligent children. Teachers and school administrators sometimes get tired of seeing the same child over and over again because that child is continually doing something wrong, something against the rules, something that the child is doing on purpose that demonstrates his/her intelligence and the arbitrariness of the rules. It should not have been said out loud, but it is occasionally true that really smart kids use their smarts for mischief more than academics. Teachers can get tired of this. We should always talk to children in a way that is kind and gentle but sometimes we slip up. The person who talks this way to a child all the time has a problem, though, and needs his/her boss to demand that person improve their communication skills.

My horrible principal finally retired, after 20 years of foot-in-the-mouth-itis.
 

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Quote:

Originally Posted by Profmom
Here is my issue (well ONE of them, anyway...): I am often troubled by the language we parents use to talk about our very bright children and wonder what effect it has on their self-concept. For example, I often read or hear (not here at MDC, but more generally) people say that their bright child is 'scary' or 'way too smart' or express their wish that their child were 'normal'. Or: "He/she is too smart for his/her own good"

Do we choose these phrases because we are used to defending ourselves, or parenting, our children? Perhaps we use 'negative' terms to fend off criticism that we are 'bragging' or 'too pushy' or 'too invested' in our children's acheivements? Or is it veiled bragging? What do you think?
This is something that I think about often. I'm sure that when I do it, a lot of the time it's a defense mechanism going back to my own childhood and my mother's responses to comments about her children.

I'm working on changing it in my own mind, on "owning" words like "freak" for myself. It's helpful, and I'm cool with it, but I do not like to refer to my children as "freaks" and I become very agitated when others suggest that they are "freaks." I think they should be free to make that choice for themselves, you know? I don't think of my children as "scary" and I try not to think of them as "too smart for their own good." I rarely wish for my children to be "normal" but I do occasionally find myself wishing that they'd behave a bit more "normally" in public. I do not say these things out loud, though, any more than I say that they're "gifted." Neither is useful in general conversation.
 

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Wow- I'm glad I've been sheltered from that kind of language!

I've never heard anything negative about being gifted- either when I was a child or in reference to my own children.
 

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Quote:

Originally Posted by Charles Baudelaire
We've gotten "too smart for her own good."

What the heck does that MEAN? Really. Like, how's she supposed to change that, anyway? What is the purpose of this comment?
Well, I actually think that of myself sometimes. I think it means that it is really hard for me to let things go and not think about them deeply. I get so bothered by a lot of what is going on around me because I am hyper aware of it all. I see this in gifted kids as well. They have a hard time letting go of issues that bother them and they have a hard time ignoring them in the first place. They question authority a lot and are super analytic. Me, too. That also got me in trouble as a kid sometimes. In 6th grade, I organized a bus boycott because of the way our bus driver was treating one of the boys in our class. (long story) We all walked to school for a week! That is just one example of being very smart and not letting an issue go. Sometimes this does not work in the favor of the gifted person and they get in trouble. I guess that is what it is supposed to mean. In the classroom, I think this might manifest itself in a child asking the teacher to prove why the rules are the rules, that sort of thing.

But, I would never say that out loud. And, even thinking it makes me cringe because I would not want to let it cloud my judgement.
 

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Quote:

Originally Posted by boongirl
Well, I actually think that of myself sometimes. I think it means that it is really hard for me to let things go and not think about them deeply. I get so bothered by a lot of what is going on around me because I am hyper aware of it all. I see this in gifted kids as well. They have a hard time letting go of issues that bother them and they have a hard time ignoring them in the first place.
Yes, THIS is totally my son! So, he has unoficially been diagnosed ocd (he definitely does have some sort of anxiety disorder, and this one fits best for now...) But usually, I describe him as Type-A, high-strung, interested in learning about all topics, and possessing a "scary" memory- yes, I am guilty of using that word because his ability to remember things really had frightened me at times. (FWIW, I never use the word scary to describe any other aspect of his intelligence or capability.)
 

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You wanna know what one of my favorite activities was as a child? Organizing my family's life: closets, drawers, desks, purses, briefcases. You name it, I loved to organize it and give it a system. It drove me nuts to know that there was something disorganized in the house. That was my obsession as a kid. That, and always getting the right answer on everything at school.
 

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Quote:

Originally Posted by Ruthla
I've never heard anything negative about being gifted- either when I was a child or in reference to my own children.
Gosh, I've heard all of that stuff and worse. "Too smart for her own good" was common, and honestly one of the more polite ones. We were constantly referred to as freaks, scary, that family of Einsteins, and all sorts of other things. I must have heard how "scary" I was at least twice a day. I was called a smart alec on a regular basis simply for offering observations about what I saw, even when I'd been specifically asked to observe (i.e. a science project in class). I was often chided for not acting like the other kids in my class; if I talked, I was told that I should talk less and if I didn't, I was told that I was being deliberately antisocial. I used big words, and apparently I was doing it deliberately to intimidate the other kids...
: My interests were not those of my classmates, and that was a character flaw.

I haven't heard as much ultra-negative stuff about my children yet, but they're so young that any perceived flaws are obviously my own; I'm "pushing" them, and not letting them be children (how could they be anything else?!). Somehow I compelled my 13 month old daughter to climb the tallest ladder and go down the big slide on her own. I forced my 22 month old son to talk like a six year old and make your barely verbal three year old feel bad about himself, so it's my fault that said three year old is chasing my son with a stick, trying to hit him in the head. In a few more years, it'll be her fault if she uses "big words," and BeanBean can be responsible for not intimidating older children on his own, but for now, it's obviously the result of something I've done to them.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Thanks for the interesting replies to my question. I didn't mean to imply at all that ALL parents/teachers use this kind of language, but let's face it, many do. I am worrying that ds now sees his abilities as a millstone rather than as a gift. And I worry that we have contributed to this with the words we choose to describe his differences. The best teacher he ever had was his fifth grade teacher (at an International School in Bonn, Germany) who helped him to blend helping his classmates adjust to what she called his unique 'personal style'. She always described things in positive language and it was striking.

We like to describe ourselves as a family as "weird, but in a good way". You can't hide the differences, but I do think the way we talk about these differences helps our children to cope (or not to cope) with them.

FWIW, ds never got in trouble at the school from which he removed him this past spring. He was being systematically bullied for his differences. Rather than addressing the bully, the principal chose to 'blame' ds for inviting the problems with his vocabulary, personal style, etc. That was his last day there!
 

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Grief form too much brain
Well, you know, ther eis higer than in general population proportion of gifted adualt in prisona dn emntal institution. ANythignt aht make you very diffrent can bring you joy or grief....
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
I don't think the grief comes from the brain, but the way in which society (or on a more local level, peers) react to the very intelligent. My ds, who was mercilessly bullied in two US schools for his verbal precocity (result = no friends, deeply lonely, depression) walked into a German Gymnasium (the top level of a three-level system here) last week and already has friends, male and female. His attitude toward school is surging (a joy!) and he looks forward to peer interactions. He is admired here for his abilities with the violin and love of classical music (rather than taunted as 'gay'). I am NOT saying that Germany is better than the US for gifted kids, but only that this specific context is a better intellectual/social/spiritual match for ds than the specific contexts in which he found himself in the US. My point: some, but not all, of the 'it's a curse to be bright' message is carefully taught to these kids. And I feel that some, but not all, of the existential depression that hg and pg kids often experience results from the feelings of isolation and hopelessness that they feel when faced with 'the curse' of being different.
 

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Oh, no. I do this. Not all the time but sometimes when I think someone is going to say something unkind to me or my daughter I make a "joke" about what she's done.
Or, last week we gave my daughter's godmother a ride and we were listening to a CD in Spanish. My daughter explained, " 'Colores' means 'colors' in Spanish."
I suddenly felt embarassed. Like my daughter was being rude by explaining the obvious. Never mind the fact that my girl is three. So I leaned over and whispered to my friend, "Smart ass."
My friend looked horrified and said, "Actually, I was trying to figure out what it meant."
Or, this summer my daughter became obsessed with "Ode to Joy." She talked about it all the time and wanted to conduct it and finally learned how to play the beginning of it. Another friend looked--I'm not sure. Astonished? and I said, "Yeah, that one actually scares me."
My daughter didn't hear me say either of these things but I still should never have said them.
Good thread. I'm going to stop myself from now on.
 
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