Thursday, September 8, 2016

Another (and possibly the most important) reason to advocate for gifted kids

Why advocate for gifted kids when they already enter life with advantages?

They grasp information with lightening speed. They coast through school. They typically excel in their chosen careers.

OK, sure... many are overlooked, miserable in schools that refuse to challenge them, underachieving, bored, hiding their talents. Some are bullied, and at best, struggle with finding a peer group where they belong.

Faced with others' expectations, a myriad of career possibilities, and the chains of asynchronous development complicating social interactions, there are multiple pressures they must endure. Acutely aware of life's uncertainties, tormented over the world's injustices, teetering on the verge of existential depression, many fight anxiety, sadness and despair.

Despite their innate advantages, gifted kids can suffer as much as any others - even as much as at-risk kids, or kids with learning disabilities that make school a daily challenge. All of these children struggle; however the fewest resources are devoted to gifted children. Their intellectual hunger and social/emotional needs are an afterthought in the hierarchy of school funding and resources.

So here's another essential (and possibly the most important) reason to advocate for gifted kids...

They grow up. 

And these adults, like all of us, carry scars and wounds from childhood. Sometimes wounds can create emotional pain, defensive patterns that guard from further assault, or "neurotic" symptoms that limit the ability to fully embrace life's joys, function as partners in relationships, or contribute productively to the workforce. Gifted kids become gifted adults, and cart their childhood woes along with them. And they may land in my office, or the offices of other therapists who try to help them move past... the past.

As a psychologist, I believe there is perhaps no more important reason to insist on advocacy than the reality that gifted adults continue to suffer the effects of neglect and painful experiences from childhood. It doesn't just stop after high school.

And the absence of an appropriate education is a form of neglect. Gifted children may appear to thrive, given their typically good grades, but most are barely challenged. And many suffer emotional scars from social alienation or bullying, some of which might have been prevented if they had been permitted to share classes with like-minded peers (through acceleration or ability-based groups). Parents may have few resources or support with these high-octane kids, often worry about the appearance of bragging if they share concerns with others, and may not know how to advocate for their child's needs within the schools.

Certainly, psychological struggles among gifted adults are not entirely due to a deficient education. Mental health problems may be inherited and biologically based, or due to trauma, a troubling environment or a distressing family situation. It is well-recognized that a loving, caring parental relationship, with appropriate but non-hovering supervision, firm limits, and the absence of harsh punishment (e.g., name-calling, shaming, physical punishment of any kind), is critical.

But we cannot control all factors in our children's lives - we do the best we can. Let's eliminate one such factor that might contribute to our child's suffering, and to his or her future well-being. Let's advocate for a fair and appropriate education for our children and for the welfare of others as well. Get informed. Learn about the laws in your state and school district. Befriend your child's teacher. Know your rights as a parent. And remain attuned to your child's needs.

Let's ensure that our children thrive in school throughout their childhood - and that these years provide a springboard toward emotional well-being as they become

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Parents of young musicians: Finding community and support

We all have seen band parents, moms who shepherd children to countless music lessons, seemingly tough guy dads who tear up shamelessly at their child's solo performance.

But parenting a musically gifted child can be an isolating experience.

Many parents insist that their children try music lessons, given the documented social/emotional and academic benefits of music instruction. Most kids quit at some point, though, unless they truly find their passion in music. Those who stick with it are usually talented; music comes easily and is joyful, challenging, and meaningful. Practicing still might be a drag, but participating in ensembles, bands, orchestras, choirs and other joint ventures adds to the fun. Solo performances and auditions frazzle nerves, but reap a sense of accomplishment and are powerful learning experiences.

What is it like for parents whose children truly excel in music? In addition to navigating their own reactions and personal anxiety about their child's talents, they often become immersed in the musical experience. They know the music. They know when their child is off-key, playing a poorly phrased passage, or forgets a memorized section during a performance. They weather their child's aspirations and rejections. The power of their child's passionate performance swells in their hearts.

And like parents of intellectually gifted children, they often hide their reactions. They don't want to appear to boast or brag. They don't want to complain too much (after all, their child might be the best musician in the school - their concerns about how little their child practices might seem insignificant in comparison). Worries about performances or conservatory auditions seem esoteric when other parents are concerned about SATs or just getting their kids to complete homework. And parents who are not raising musically talented children may hold misconceptions similar to those often projected onto parents of intellectually gifted children.

How can parents of these talented children find a sense of belonging and community?

Parents of musicians thrive when they find other parents who understand their situation. This provides emotional support, a sense of community, but also helps with parenting decisions unique to their situation. Should I push my child to practice more? Should he go to a music camp? How does majoring in music at a liberal arts college compare with attending a conservatory? Should I worry about her ability to support herself as an adult musician? 

It may take some effort, but actively seeking out parents online or within your child's music organizations can be a life changer. While you wait for your child at his lesson, speak with the other parents in the waiting room. When you sit through choir or jazz band rehearsals, reach out to other parents. See if any of these venues offer parent meetings or workshops. For example, Philadelphia Sinfonia, an elite youth orchestra, offers a workshop where parents of Sinfonia alumni provide advice and support regarding applying to conservatories and colleges. Similar options may be available in your community.

Parents of musically gifted children can feel isolated. But when they seek out like-minded parents, they will have found a community where they can share their joys, uncertainty and disappointments with others who will truly understand.

This blog is part of Hoagie's Gifted Education Page blog hop on Community. To see more blogs, click on the following link: