From a young age, I was told I could accomplish anything and everything. All I had to do was to will it to happen without even trying. You might be thinking how wonderful it is to have things come so easy. Well, I was lied to. Everyone told me that I could “move mountains.” So, my decision to climb one seemed like an easy, logical thing to do. And it was easy for a while, but as I climbed higher and higher, my tools started to wear down, and I got lost on the journey. Nothing was easy anymore. Sound familiar? If so, you’re living the life of a gifted kid.
Let’s put it this way; you were cruising on the high-speed train of success … one that could slip through every tunnel and cross every bridge. But then you hit a spot where the railroad tracks were no longer made for you—and you had been so indolent that you never actually discovered how to construct them yourself. In other words, you could say you’d gone “off the rails”. As a result, you end up with absurdly poor study habits and evade homework with a passion (surely, you don’t need to do it. You remember the material. Right? (Well, the 50% on your last test says otherwise). You look in the mirror, and these days only a burnout stares back.
As a “gifted kid,” you have no concept of trying, and it’s backfiring big time.
So first, let’s prepare to climb our own mountains and discuss the problem of being labeled “gifted”. Then, we will examine the harms causing our tools to break, and finally, stranded on our own we will have to resort to asking for help as we find a solution to this dilemma within our society.
To fully comprehend the impacts of gifted programs, one must first consider the unique population that makes up the gifted student bodies. Students with high Intelligence Quotients (IQ) are usually quite self-aware, well-adjusted, and resilient in childhood. However, numerous studies prove that these qualities diminish as the child enters adolescence, persisting throughout adulthood. This change could be regarded from a psychosocial perspective: students considered to be “gifted” are often isolated or misinterpreted by their peers, leading to a sense of ostracism. Furthermore, they are more vulnerable to social conflicts and few others properly appreciate their sense of humor. The jokes that go like, “I’ve got a great joke about construction, but I’m still working on it” or “Did you hear the rumor about butter? Well, I’m not going to spread it!” You get the point. The internet’s viewpoint on gifted burnout aligns with this developmental track, noting the original feelings of self-worth and enthusiasm about being gifted, and its descent into an anxiety-provoking label.
According to The Outline, an online publication, an abundance of “gifted kid burnout” memes have crashed the internet in the past few years, giving us all a glimpse into the futures of these children. Countless teenagers describe feeling less accomplished than they did in their youth and blame this occurrence on the adults around them who value academic prowess too heavily. The phrase “gifted kid burnout” is essentially every child who was raised with constant praise and high achievements than others in their youth. It is every child told they could be anything they desired and that they could go anywhere they wanted because they were just that “smart”. However, somewhere in high school and college, these children realized that they weren’t really as far ahead as everyone around them had urged them to believe. Perhaps it arrived with their first failing grade. Maybe it came when they realized that they actually had to study for a test. Whatever that moment was, it was such a shock to their system that they had to reset their entire viewpoint. The aftermath of that reset is a “gifted kid burnout.”
Kids titled as gifted have long been thought to be more at risk of emotional issues and to carry many of them into adulthood. The National Association for Gifted Children, for instance, identifies “heightened awareness, anxiety, perfectionism, stress, issues with peer relationships, and concerns with identity” as just SOME possible severe issues. Many students report an incapability to study as they never needed to earlier. Others emphasize the “averageness” they experience when surrounded by other bright and talented people. This feeling may be intensified by the disappointment of adults around them, further ridding them of the motivation required to reclaim their former gifted status. This burnout especially plagues students at rigorous schools, as they are faced with increasingly difficult work as their years advance. It is estimated that 15-20 percent of high performing students will struggle with the high expectations placed by themselves and others during their academic career and beyond, which can vastly reduce their academic success.
Furthermore, research done by Professor Carol Dweck, reveals that giving kids positive labels such as “gifted,” “talented,” or “smart” in their impressionable years thrusts them into a so-called “fixed mindset”: presuming that qualities are “set in stone” and “fearing challenge and devaluing effort.” Several parallels are already arising between the fixed mindset and Gifted Kid Burnout. Contrarily, the growth mindset rejects labels (even positive ones like “gifted”) and, as Dweck states, “[believes] that a person’s true potential is unknown (and unknowable); that it’s impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion, toil, and training.”
This fixed mindset coincides with the unwarranted superiority complex. People with a fixed mentality tend to blindly assume that great geniuses are born extraordinary and that they don’t require effort to attain their goals. When requested to depict Thomas Edison, people stated things like: “He’s leaning over a lightbulb. Suddenly, it works!” or “He’s working on the phonograph, trying things. He succeeds!”. When Dweck questioned them if Edison was alone, their immediate response was yes; describing Edison as “the only one who knows what he’s after,” or as “kind of a reclusive guy who likes to tinker on his own.” Of course, this is far from the truth: Edison had thirty assistants, and his inventions were time-consuming and definitely did not occur at the switch of the light bulb.
So, if you suffer from Gifted Kid Burnout, a combination of constant praise for your high capabilities and not needing to put in the effort to succeed academically, you’ve probably ended up with a fixed mindset, which I deem the root of your problems. What can be done? There’s no set prescription as it is often accompanied by mental health concerns such as depression and anxiety, requiring professional help. However, ironically, the cure to Gifted Kid Burnout is letting go of the idea that you or anyone else can be “gifted.” To me, it seems like the best we can do for each other is respect hard effort over the letter grade. To value the learning experience more than the score we received. Our values need to change. Many students end up having to come to grips with the reality that they won’t see success putting in minimal effort as they had been doing for so long. But once this conclusion has been reached, it’s not difficult to gain motivation to achieve your goals. The issue of learning to study is harder to fix but not impossible, especially with the many resources available at the touch of our fingertips.
Wrapping up, it’s quite easy to see how individuals labeled as “gifted” can end up viewing themselves as better than everyone else, even while having nothing to show for it. They may not be putting in much effort, but being so smart, they’re for sure going to do exceptional things one day, and they won’t really have to try for that either. So why try now? They make pretenses for their lack of effort and failure to utilize themselves. Therefore, after reviewing through the causes, harms, and solutions of this dilemma, if you’re a Gifted Kid Burnout, I advise that you look at yourself from an outsider’s perspective, and you’ll probably recognize that you happen to be one of these “ordinary, run-of-the-mill human beings”. But, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that as “many of the most accomplished people of our era were considered by experts to have absolutely no future”. Understand that effort, not your innate intelligence, is what will guide you closer to fulfilling your dreams and that your intelligence is never set in stone. Think of it this way: you may have had a better, earlier start up your mountain, but what’s bound to happen when you’re walking, and everyone else is running?
Author: Sania Mehta
Sania is a freshman in high school.
She lives in Cupertino, CA with her family.
In her free time Sania loves to read and write fiction and non-fiction stories.