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My Gifted Teen Is Failing Classes And Won't Accept Help

by Carol
(Ft Lauderdale, FL)

How can my husband and I get our 16 year old daughter to be open to help? She has been in the gifted program at school since 3rd grade. Because of that, her circle of friends are mostly gifted, overachievers. She has been struggling to keep up with her heavy course load. She is currently taking 3 AP classes and 4 honors classes. Her GPA is weak, and doesn't reflect the level of difficulty and effort she has put into these courses.

She was diagnosed with ADHD, subtype inattentive about 6 years ago. We tried medication, which she said didn't help. We also tried 4 different therapists, with no result. I began to think I was making things worse by stigmatizing her, so we dropped the medication and therapy.

She struggled through middle school, with most of her problems lying with missing homework, late assignments, etc. Her teacher's comments were that she was definitely a gifted child, and did well on exams.

She is sweet and pleasant, never misbehaved. She is shy to the point where she won't approach a teacher for help or to challenge a grade. In this regard, she flies under the radar of most teachers. That is, the teachers didn't notice that she was struggling.

I've had many conferences with teachers, guidance counselors and administrators. I'm my daughters biggest advocate.

Once in high school, the cycle continued. My daughter is very resistant to accountability. My husband and I have tried to get her to take less challenging courses. She insists on being on the gifted track, because of her social circle and because of her own self worth.

I'm afraid if we force the issue and make her drop the gifted program it would be a huge blow to her self esteem. Because she is such an introvert, I'm also concerned that it would precipitate other issues, such as depression, etc.

She had an awakening moment late this summer, where she asked us to revisit the medication and therapy issue. I researched and found a very qualified psychiatrist who specializes in adolescent therapy. My daughter connected with her initially. But after 3 months, has decided that she doesn't need therapy, and only wants medication management.

She is now a junior, and this is a critical year in preparing for college applications. If she doesn't figure out how to break this pattern, her college options will be very limited. She won't accept help from anyone, including parents, teachers, sister, friends. She is digging in her heels and insisting that she can handle it on her own.

How do I get her to open up and accept help? How do I help her to be less rigid with her point of view? Should I force the issue of changing her classes and risk the emotional repercussions?

Comments for My Gifted Teen Is Failing Classes And Won't Accept Help

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Supporting A Gifted Teen - Part One
by: Annie Desantis

Hi Carol,
It sounds like you are wonderfully supportive parents and are doing everything you can to support and help your daughter.

However I can also see that your support and worry for her is adding another layer of pressure and stress around her.

How Important Is Success At School?

I know you see this as a critical year for her future - but I have to point out - schooling success is NOT the most important or the only measure of success in life.

Unfortunately our society puts a huge amount of pressure on our kids to achieve highly in school and to get into a good college.

And to be honest, gifted children get way more pressure and have much higher expectations loaded onto them. It sounds to me like your daughter is buckling under that - and some of it self inflicted when she does not want to drop back.

Even with a gifted program, schools are not geared to be able to support different learning styles or to strengthen the talents of exceptional children. Gifted programs tend to more be aimed at academic achievements, and the teaching methods stay pretty much the same.

Diagnosis To Promote Conformity

Your daughter has had various diagnosis' over the years largely because she does not fit the norm and struggles to conform. Schools are designed to channel kids to conform and be average. Even gifted programs are still channeling kids to conform to academic achievements, albeit higher grades.

Many many gifted young people fail miserably at school or college, as they are simply not able to provide the kind of learning situation that they could excel in.

The ADHD and subattentive diagnosis your daughter has had, raise flags to me about her style of learning. I suspect she is a kinesthetic learner - she needs physical movement to integrate information and to be able to think. Medication may well calm her and help her to sit in class and appear to be functioning more "normally" but I suspect it is not actually helping her to learn.

Part Two Follows . . .

Supporting A Gifted Teen - Part Two
by: Annie Desantis

Education Is Important, But . . .

Of course we want our kids to get the most out of their education - but schooling is not just about academic learning. A teenager's primary development is about relationships.

So friendships and peer groups are incredibly important at this age, and what they learn at this point in their lives is vital. We tend to see academic achievements and getting good grades at the most important aspect of our teenagers lives and this simply is not true. We do want them to have as many options for college and we do want them to open as many doors for their future - but we are doing our kids a dis-service when we have so much emphasis on grades.

Your daughter's most important learning is to trust in herself and her abilities - to learn, to relate, to find things out, to see the endless possibilities in her future. If we force gifted kids to put blinkers on and put almost all their energy into being high achievers at school - they often end up getting way out of balance in other areas of their lives, and they don't develop the resilience to deal with life's challenges.

Sometimes kids have to bomb out in something to be able to work out what they need, or how to figure out the best ways of balancing the demands of school and life.

I know you really want what is best for her, but I think for you to step in and make decisions against her wishes will not be helpful. She is 16, she is saying quite clearly she does not want to change classes. She might even have to fail to learn how to make better choices for herself.

In a way, you pushing her to change tack is kind of like saying you don't believe in her ability or that she can handle it. And you may well be right. But hard though it is, one of our roles as a parent of a teenager, is to let them make their own choices even if we don't think it is best. We can't always protect our kids, but we can always be there for them when they realize they need to reassess.

Help Her To Choose And Reassess

It is more empowering for her to let her choose what she wants (of course in discussion with you) and then ask her how best she can be supported with that. If she feels you don't believe in her and that your way of supporting her is to try to convince her to do what you think is best for her - then you are not really giving her what she needs. Instead she is going to feel she is failing you AND herself if she does not succeed.

At present perhaps most of the pressure to complete the extended program is coming from her, so she may well be making life tougher for herself than she needs to. But it is much better for her to figure that out, than to be told what is best for her.
Part Three Follows . . .

Supporting A Gifted Teen - Part Three
by: Annie Desantis

The Challenge Of A Gifted Child

We have a lot of kids coming through now that are not the normal average conforming child. They can be emotionally "raw" or volatile or over sensitive, they can be exhausting in a family, and they certainly don't fit the mold of "ordinary". Sadly schools and social services tend to look at these kids as dysfunctional or broken in someway and all the emphasis is on
trying to fix them.

You clearly love and support your daughter very deeply and have been doing everything you can to help her to fit and cope in a school system that is not ideal for her.

She has had a whole raft of people supposedly helping her - and you are right, to some extent some of that contributes to her feeling she is not good enough, that there is something wrong with her and she needs medication and therapy to cope.

Of course every child is special and unique, but your daughter has some different ways of being in the world and this will be her strength and power as well as her challenge.

As you say, you have been her biggest advocate and have done everything you can to support her. Now I think you need to listen to her and let her tell you what she needs in the way of support. Even if it does mean she does not do as well in
school as she could - helping her to understand that her self esteem comes from inside, it is nothing to do with achieving at school is actually more important.

Find out from her what she needs to feel she is flourishing. Many teenagers need time management skills - but many simply perform better under pressure.

My daughter used to drive me crazy, staying up all night before a major assignment was due. But she often had her best ideas under pressure, and nearly always did well when I backed off and let her fly by the seat of her pants. When she tried to do it my way of being organized in advance, she was not innovative or motivated and although she might get a reasonable grade, she was not pleased with her work or felt she got anything much out of the assignment.

It is a fine line as the parent of a teenager - we want what WE think is best for them. We want them to succeed and excel - but we often don't recognize that their way of being in the world is very different to our own. We are much better to help our kids to figure out for themselves how they best study or learn, and how to balance social with schooling.

If we try to organize everything, or see problems with how they are studying or coping, and then jump in to fix it - we take away their ability to trust in themselves or their ability to figure out how best to juggle life's demands.

Part Four Follows . . .

Supporting A Gifted Teen - Part Four
by: Annie Desantis

More Support Less Help!

You may quite likely support your daughter MORE by helping LESS! Listen to her and let her work her way through her situation without having to fix it up or rescue her. The more she can try out different ways of coping and be OK with messing up, then more she builds up resilience and confidence.

High achievers or gifted kids often do not cope will under pressure or with disappointment as they have not developed enough resilience to be OK with testing things out or making mistakes. The expectation is they have to get it right.

Most of our most innovative thinkers and exceptional people are people who got it wrong many times but were not afraid to persevere, or change direction or to make mistakes. They are people who think outside the box and are not so concerned with fitting in or conforming to career paths.

Your daughter is not a child that is going to be average.

It is not easy at any age to feel different or that you don't quite fit. What she needs is more support to feel OK about that, rather than support to conform and fit in and constrict her way of being to be more "normal".

She is a blessing, and has some very unique gifts for this world, and she is very lucky to have such a loving and supportive family.

Let Her Figure Things Out

Try to take a step back and let her know you are there for her, but that you know she needs to work things out herself. You can be available when she want help or extra support (like asking at the end of summer to go back to therapy). She then decided she was able to handle things herself for a while, which is a great thing - better than being dependent on a therapist all the time. For now she wants to get control of her life herself, and to develop the skills to stand on her own feet.

When she needs more help, trust that she will say what she needs rather than trying to insist she gets help.

I know you are concerned that she will fail at school and that will result in her falling into depression. That is a possibility - but you can't protect her from life's challenges, and your worry does not help her at all.

Part Five Follows . . .

Supporting A Gifted Teen - Part Five
by: Annie Desantis

Listen More Than Fix

Keep the doors to communication open - let her know you will back her choices even if you are worried she is pushing herself too hard. Listen far more than trying to give advice or fix things - more often than not letting her talk it out and verbalize the things that are stressing her and may well be enough to help her to get back on track or to reassess without you having to say much at all!

When we jump in and try to make suggestions or fix things, we don't give our kids the space to work things out themselves.

    Instead of offering advice, make openings for her to ask for help or to think about things differently:
  • "Is this something you need more help with?"

  • "Is there anything we can do that would be helpful or supportive?"

  • "Are you getting the help you need from school? Who might be a good person to talk to or work with?"

  • "What are the ways you have tried to manage .....?"

  • "Who do you find really supports you?"

  • "What could you try that might make things a bit easier to manage?"

  • "Can you think of a time when you felt you were coping pretty well, and were on top of things? What was different then? What could you bring/learn from that into this situation?"

Having a strong capable Mom, who likes to sort things out and fix things up can sometimes make it hard for kids to develop their own problem solving strategies!

You are clearly a very strong loving family, and maintaining that is what is most important. Even if your daughter does not seem to be making the best choice in your eyes - she is going to learn heaps though perhaps not exactly what you were hoping!

take care,
Annie Desantis

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