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Young, Gifted, & Stressed

Help! I'm so stressed out!

How many times have you heard this, said it, thought it? Stress is our bodies' reaction to emotions, and we all suffer from it from time to time.

Stress certainly is no stranger to the gifted and talented (GT) adolescent. Because most GT's have a heightened self-awareness, stress rears its head in a myriad of ways -- constant striving for excellence, self-created high expectations, the fear of being mediocre, and the need to prove one's giftedness are just a few.

What trigger's stress? Anything that happens long enough, strong enough, or often enough. So gifted student tend to stare stress in the face on a daily basis. GT's accept responsibility for a demanding caseload -- being leaders, having part-time jobs. Even a vacation can seem stressful to gifted kids because they're not producing, and they feel nervous because they lack control.

Monotonous busywork is anathema to a gifted student and can generate anger, resentment. Because these students value leadership and independence, they can often feel separated from their peers both emotionally and physically, leading to loneliness and fewer stress-releasing opportunities.

Gifted students are complex thinkers, able to argue both sides of the coin, convincingly. Yet, like all teens, they lack the maturity and become impatient with compromise and accommodation -- they want a clear cut answer NOW, so decision making just bristles with stress.

How Stress Hurts Self-Esteem

Gifted students "get it." Learning, comprehension, and mastery all seem to come instantly early in their school careers. Later on though, when the work becomes more demanding, gifted students may discover that they never learned "how" to study. Their frustration can lead to disappointment and, yes, more stress. The very abilities that lead to their "gifted" status now become clouds on the horizon, impairing decision making, inhibiting concentration, and causing forgetfulness. Our gifted student now becomes overly sensitive to any criticism. Performance suffers and failure ensues. How's that for stressful?

How Can So Much Potential be Stressful?

It's the stress of abundance. Gifted students are blessed with the opportunity for success in so many ventures. The stress comes with having to choose among so many attractive options. The child has to know himself well and use his self-awareness as a guide in setting clear career goals. That's an awful lot on the plate of any 16 or 17-year-old. Some people haven't figured that one out at age 40!

Source: Adapted from "Helping Gifted Students with Stress Management" by Leslie S. Kaplan, 1990, ERIC EC Digest #E488, The ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education (ERIC EC).

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