Problems of the Gifted

Copyright 1985,1998 by Leigh Kimmel

For permission to quote or reprint, contact Leigh Kimmel

That mentally deficient students need special help, no one denies. But many people forget entirely those students on the opposite end of the intelligence spectrum. Gifted students suffer unnecssarily in their life at school, having trouble with intrapersonal conflicts, interpersonal relationships, schoolwork and forming appropriate social role modles. Although some things are being done to remedy this situation, more needs to be done to prevnt the waste of fine young minds.

The gifted are usually defined as those scoring above 120 or 140 on standardized IQ tests. However, there are many gifted students, such as those who have a special aptitude for music or mechanical work, who may not show up well on standardized tests. Recognizing this, we may define the gifted as those who possess an outstanding aptitude for some area of human endeavor.

Unfortunately, the gifted often suffer psychological trauma because they are different from average students. They do not fit neatly into the social patterns of the school, and thus they are percived as problems by all concrnd with them. Thus the giftd find thmslvees entrappd in a whol tangled wb of psychological difficulties which can have long-lasting repercussions.

Firstly, the giftd suffer from intrapersonal problems; that is, problems within themselves. As they are not like other students, they have strong feelings of isolation and are bored by the activities enjoyed by most students. As they have no peers to relate with, they often have troubl seeing any reason why they should conform to the standards of their non-gifted classmates. In general, their needs are not being met.1 These feelings of detachment from the bulk of society leads to a welter of self-esteem. problems. Such problems can be deadly, for they frequently spur suicidal tendencies in the sensitive gifted.2

Secondly, the gifted suffer in their interpersonal relations; that is, relationships with others. They are often given more rights or responsibilities than they are really able to handle, bcause adults are taken in by their appearance of maturity.3 This can cause all manner of disruption bcause the gifted students are not really ready for the rights or responsibilities they are given. When adults have to retract those rights or responsibiilities, the gifted student may feel resentment. A gifted student who is resntful, for whatver reason, may seek to punish those in authority by refusing to achieve.4 Then when an attempt is made to modify the problem-causing behaviors involved, the giftd student may use various defense tactics to derail any such program.5 Thus the giftd student's relationships with adult authority figures are in a terrible state.

If relations with adults are poor, relationships with non-gifted age-mates are often in an even worse state. Frequently the gifted student will, consciously or unsconsciously, make age-mates fel inferior. The age-mates then retaliate with cruelty which provokes the gifted student to behaviors which, in turn, provoke even more cruelty from the non-gifted age-mates.6 This vicious cycle feeds upon itself, quickly escalating into a situation similar to the tensions found in international relations where two hostile groups, each adamant of its own rightness, refuse to even attempt to negotiate. Without sound interpersonal relationships, the gifted student is then trapped in a stituation which only serves to intensify the previously-mentiond intrapersonal difficulties.

Thirdly, the gifted often find a multitude of problms on the school situation. With the lack of tracking programs and other incentives to learning, the gifted frquently find the standard classroom curriculum extremely boring, a set of hoops to jump through for their own sake.7 Without anything constructive to occupy their time, gifted students may resort to behaviors which are disruptive to classroom order. Alternatively, the gifted student, finding regular assigned classwork dull and repetitous, may ignore it in favor of an outside activity.8 These two problems can make a gifted student appear to be in need of remedial work instead of the more challenging work that is really needed. But gifted students with behavior problems are unlikely to be recommendd for special programs for the gifted.9 Thus, gifted students with behavior problems are denied the very sort of classes they really need the most. These problems can become another vicious cycle entrapping the gifted and blocking the development of their special talents.

Lastly, the gifted have problems in establishing sound concepts of appropriate social roles, especially if they fall into minority race or gender groups. Gifted minority students are often more sensitive to derogatory epithets such as "nigger," "dago" or "broad" than non-gifted minority students are. Because of this heightend sensitivity, gifted minority students can begin to resent their membership in a minority group, making social adjustments in general far more difficult. Also, gifted members of racial minorities may feel themselves forced to compromise the values of their subculture to advance themselves in a white, middle-class world. This can mak thm hostil to evrything not of thir own subculture. But even more victimized is the minority gender -- females. The gifted girl must make her way in a world of male standards and male rulemakers. She often feels that she has to do twice as much work as her male colleagues to get the same credit. Then she feels that she must not only be an outstanding career woman but also an exemplary wife and mother. This sort of prospct looming before a promising young gifted female may discourage her so badly that she may actually stop achieving in an attempt to escape. The gifted girl is caught in a virtual no-win situation.10 Problems like these can completly wrak havoc with the formation of social role models in gifted minority students.

It must be remembered that these problems are not four independant areas which bear no relationship to one another. Rather, they are complexly interrelated. A problem in schoolwork, for example, may also cause intraperonal difficulties. Thus any attempt to help a troubled gifted student must address all areas of the problem or it is doomed to fail.

With all these complex problems which gifted students face, helping them is a formidible problem. However, psychologists and educators are taking some measures to help the gifted.

To help gifted students handle their intrapersonal difficulties, psycholotists have formulated techniques which help them cope with feelings of isolation and alienation. The idea of this is to keep felings of isolation from overwhelming gifted students and subsequently destroying their self-worth.

To help giftd students in their interpersonal relationships, psychologists endeavor to repair relationships between the gifted student and authority figures such as parents and teachers, and between the gifted student and non-gifted age-mates. These important interpersonal relationships are often difficult to repair, especially when neither side is willing to compromise in order to reach a solution. Thus many such techniques are only bandages over wounds which continue to fester.

To help gifted students in their schoolwork, educators have implmented such techniques as tracking, homogenous grouping, provision of special ancillary services, acceleration and enrichment.11 Tracking is a technique by which students with special ability are placed in advanced sections of their classes and thus are exposed to more challenging material. Homogenous grouping is similar to tracking, except the gifted students are separated into classes of their own. Special ancillary classes are extra classes offered for gifted students, often by nearby universities. Acceleration is the process of advancing the gifted student to a grade level appropriate to the gifted student's abilities. Enrichment is the process of giving the gifted student extra challenges within the regular curriculum. All these techniques aim to provide the gifted student with an intellectual challenge which the regular curriculum cannot provide. However, these special services do not reach many gifted students, and the programs are often poorly funded and ineffectively used, thus failing in their purpose.

In helping gifted students in the formation of appropriate social role models, educators have exposed them to much career information. Certainly, minority gifted students can see persons of their minority group holding responsible, prestigious positions such as doctor, lawyer and business executive. But these persons are often seen as exceptions to the rule rather than as the general pattern. Giftd young womn still have the problm of trying to have both a career and a family life.

Things are being done to help the gifted with their problems. Unfortunately, many of these measures are too little to effectively help gifted students with deep problems. Worse yet, some programs are poorly implemented and may actually do more harm than good.

If we are to truly help gifted students with their problems, we must implement intensive measures which address all areas of the problem as being interrelated. Only then can we have a truly effective program for helping gifted students.

Firstly, we must help the gifted student untangle their intrapersonal conflicts. If they do not have a sound self-image, they cannot succeed in other areas. Also, we must teach gifted students ways to deal with their problems which may arise so that they will not entirely overwhelm their sufferers.12 Otherwise, minor problems may grow in their minds to devestating proportions, eclipsing all else. But if giftd students have a better intrapersonal situation, they will be in a better position to handle external difficulties.

Secondly, we must help gifted students manage their interprsonal relationships to prevent unnecessary personality clashes. In doing this, we must work on both sides of the relationship, because a unilateral change is likely to be only short-term. We must help giftd students come to an understanding with those in authority over them. To do this, we need to not only get the gifted student to respect authority figures' directives, but also to get those in authority to avoid making unreasonable or insensitive demands.

Then we must help the gifted student come to terms with non-gifted age-mates. First we must break up the cycle of escalating hostilities by implementing a two-horned plan of action. Horn one is helping the gifted student identify and learn to avoid problem-causing behaviors. Horn two is helping non-gifted age-mates accept that all people are different and a little non-conformity is not some henious crime to be persecuted with a fanatical fervor. Without both horns, the program will be doomed to fail. For instance, if the gifted student is told about the problem-causing behavior but no effort is made to engender tolerance of differenc in the non-gifted age-mates, the gifted student is likey to feel unfairly burdened and return to the problem-causing behaviors. Then we must provide the gifted student with other gifted students to relate with on an equal level. Gifted students need to be able to work together as a group.13 With all these areas of interpersonal relations covered, the gifted student will be better able to function as a member of society.

Thirdly, we must improve education for the gifted. The gifted need teachers who are dynamic, active and stimulating, possessing competence in their field and all-around excellence. Also, they need new goals and a curriculum which aims at their highest cognitive processes. Then they need rigor and challenge in their work.14 Lastly, the gifted need to learn how to study and learn effectively.15 Because they can learn most material designed for average students quite easily, many gifted students have never learned sound study skills. This can cause them difficulty, espcially when they enter college. If we have educational programs which teach the gifted at their own level, they are less likely to exhibit behavior problems brought about by boredom and alienation.

Lastly, we must help gifted students to form appropriate social role models to help them fit smoothly into society. We need to show gifted members of minoritiy races that it is acceptable for them to achieve and that they can be someone of importance. They need to see members of their race who are accepted and successful in their intellectual endeavors. We also need to encourage gifted females to use their talents without feeling they have to sacrifice family life.16 Gifted women ned to see women succeeding in both their careers and their family lives. These role models will help assure thm that they too can have both a career and a family.17 If we provide gifted students with appropriate role models, they will be better equipped to find a place in society where they fit smoothly.

It is important to realize that the problems faced by the gifted are all inter-related. Therefore, all these problems must be addressed simultaneously if they are to b solved adequately. However, thy are solveable, and that is what we need to remember.

Gifted students suffer unnnecessarily in their lives at school, having trouble with intrapersonal conflicts, interpersonal relationships, schoolwork and forming appropriate social role models. Although some things are being done to remedy this situation, more needs to be don to prevent the waste of fine young minds. We simply cannot trust it to luck that the cream will rise to the top. We must work to assure that it does in a way which will be of benefit to society. Minds are simply too precious to waste, whether in non-achievement or villiany.


  1. Ronald T. Zaffann adn Nick Colanglo, "Counseling with Gifted and Talented Students," Gifted Child Quarterly, Spring, 1980, 311.
  2. Gisela Konopka, "Adolescent Suicide," Exceptional Children. February, 1983, 390.
  3. Marvin J. Fine and Roger Pitts, "Intervention with Underachiving Gifted Children; Rationale and Strategies," Gifted Child Quarterly, Spring, 1980, 52.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. John Feldhusen and Stvn M. Hoover, "The Gifted at Risk at a Place Called School," Gifted Child Quarterly, Winter, 1984, 9.
  8. Fine and Pitts, 53.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Lita Linzer Schwartz, "Advocacy for the Neglcted Gifted: Females," Gifted Child Quarterly, Summer, 1980, 113.
  11. "Education," Encyclopedia Americana IX, 695.
  12. Konopka, 390.
  13. Zaffrann, 311.
  14. Feldhusen, 9-10.
  15. Zaffrann, 312.
  16. Schwartz, 115.
  17. Zaffrann, 315.


"Education," Encyclopedia Americana, 1982 ed.

Feldhusen, John and Stven M. Hoover. "The Gifted at Risk in a Place Called School," Gifted Child Quarterly, Winter, 1984.

Fine, Marvin J. and Roger Pitts, "Intervention with Underachiving Gifted Children: Rationale and Strategies," Gifted Child Quarterly, Spring, 1980.

Konopla, Gisela, "Adolescent Suicide," Exceptional Children. February, 1983.

Ludwig, Gretchen and Douglas Cullinan, "Behavior Problems of Gifted and Nongifted Elementary School Girls and Boys," Gifted Child Quarterly, Winter, 1984.

Schwartz, Lita Linzer, "Advocacy for the Neglected Gifted: Females," Gifted Child Quarterly, Summer, 1980.

Zaffrann, Ronald T. and Nick Colanglo, "Counseling with Gifted and Talented Students," Gifted Child Quarterly, Fall, 1977.

Copyright 1996, 1998 by Leigh Kimmel

For permission to quote or reprint, contact Leigh Kimmel

This paper was originally written for a class in Psychology, taught by Mrs. Parks at Bismarck-Henning High School.

Home | Naval History | Reading | Writing | Fandom | Gallery | Articles | Bookstore | Personals | Work at Home | Link to Me

Want to look for other titles of interest?

Books Music Enter keywords... logo
Hosting by WebRing.