Is It Good to Be Gifted?
Optimal IQ and the Flipside to Giftedness
by David Palmer, Ph.D.
good to be a gifted? This may sound like a strange question - of
course being gifted is good... isn’t it?
It's true that kids who score higher on IQ tests will have an advantage
academically. After all, these tests are designed to predict
skills tapped by IQ tests, including memory, problem-solving, and
language ability are also important for doing well on college placement
tests and succeeding in a career.
there’s definitely an upside to being gifted. But how gifted do
kids need to be to reap these benefits – and is there a flipside to
having a high IQ?
It may seem reasonable to believe that the higher our IQ, the better
off we are. Yet, it turns out that's not necessarily true.
with higher IQs will have an advantage over those with lower IQs – all
else being equal – when it comes to ease of learning and having the
cognitive skills necessary to succeed in certain careers.
researchers have found that beyond an IQ of about 120 there is little
relationship between IQ and personal achievement. (And please note that
an IQ of 120 does not even meet the cutoff score of 130 used by most
districts as selection criteria for entrance into a gifted education
this level, achievement appears to be related more to things like
creativity, leadership ability, and personal motivation than to
with extremely high IQs (in the 145 to 180 range, for example) do no
better than those with IQs in the 120s when it comes to career success
and creative accomplishments.
having a higher IQ is certainly no guarantee that you’ll zip through
life effortlessly accomplishing great things.
I’ve seen this myself. I’ve met many people who don’t appear to
be particularly bookish or intellectual, but are very successful in
what they do.
again, I've known lots of academic types who have scored extremely high
on an IQ test but lack the "people skills," personal motivation, or
whatever it takes to translate their abilities into outward signs of
success – a college degree, a rewarding career, a fulfilling family
Maybe you've noticed this, too. Consider people you know and
admire for their accomplishments - those who make everything look easy
and always seem to be getting ahead.
likely that these people are not all “brainy” types.
Rather, most are probably of average intelligence but know how to use
their abilities to connect with and lead others, to stay focused on
their goals, and to work hard to get what they want.
Of course, that’s not to say that those with an exceptionally high IQ
won’t do well in life. Many do, and some of them contribute great
things to our society in part because of their unusually high
exceptionally high IQ may also be useful, or even necessary, in certain
professions that require more isolated cerebral types of work, such as
theoretical physics or mathematics.
So what is the optimal IQ? It’s arguable, but some would say
around 120 and no higher than 145.
At this level, you’d reap most of the advantages of having enhanced
abilities in some areas but might be spared some of the potential
downside of being too “different” from the rest of the world.
The Flipside to Having a High IQ
Just as it’s unfair and unrealistic to make generalized statements
about any group of people based on similar traits they share, we
shouldn’t oversimplify our view on the effects of giftedness on
fact, having a high IQ doesn’t necessarily come with any particular
disadvantages. The research in this area is mixed, at best.
much of it is based on interviews or anecdotal evidence, which makes it
hard to come to any firm conclusions about the findings.
Yet, all children are susceptible to struggles at some time in their
development and gifted children are no different.
common belief is that they are more prone to certain developmental
problems due to being perceived as different by others, or because they
see themselves as being out of touch with most of their peers.
this makes sense. A primary need of most kids - and maybe, to a lesser
degree, of most people as well - is to "fit in."
who's been through school understands how important it is to dress
like, act like, and be like everyone else. Or at least like
everyone else in your own little subgroup.
seem to have a need to be folded into a crowd with whom we can share
certain interests - a social connection, an identity. Yet gifted
kids are, by definition, different, at least when it comes to certain
skills or talents they possess.
giftedness is arguably a positive difference - at least from an outside
perspective - but a difference, nonetheless.
kids and teens, the pressure to conform is often so great that any
deviation from the norm can be distressing. We've all heard terms like
brain, nerd, geek or worse applied to kids who seem too bookish, or too
Of course, the potential for social problems is not unique to gifted
kids; all children are susceptible to teasing, bullying, or social
isolation when they don't fit in, for whatever reason.
school years can be tough for all children. Gifted kids, though,
do share some unique pressures and developmental issues that others may
A Disconnect Between the Brain,
the Body, and Emotions
Most six-year-olds look, act, and think like six-year-olds. They
use six-year-old words, think six-year-old thoughts, and react
emotionally like you'd expect a six-year-old to react.
children, however, are often described as showing "asynchronous
development." That is, while much of their development may be
typical for their age (their size and emotional reactions, for
instance), cognitively they are out of sync.
children's advanced cognitive skills allow them to process what's going
on around them at a different level than most of their age peers. An
outcome of this is a sophisticated and heightened curiosity about
what's going on in the world, and a desire to “fill in the gaps” of
All children are curious about the world and how it works. But for
most, their curiosity is satisfied by simple, concrete answers that
allow them to move on to other thoughts and emotions.
may see others as the "experts" and not feel a need to question or seek
elaboration on the answers provided by them.
children, however, may not be satisfied with simple answers. These
children often have a need to delve deeper to satisfy their advanced
awareness and heightened curiosity.
For example, while most young children who lose a family pet may be
satisfied with parental reassurance such as, "Your hamster is going to
Heaven to live with his friends," a gifted child may not be content
with such a simplistic response and want more information before moving
on: "What is Heaven?," "Why do we have to die?" “Will
you die someday?"
Gifted children may also have a tendency to want to discuss "adult"
issues - such as spirituality, and the afterlife – at a deeper, more
involved level than most kids their age.
potential topics may include sexuality, birth, money, relationships,
discussing these types of issues calmly and openly is not necessarily
detrimental to a child, there can be drawbacks. A child who is
excessively concerned about these things may become overly focused,
frightened, or “grossed out” by knowing too much about issues they lack
the life experience or emotional maturity to fully understand.
A seven-year-old whose father loses his job, for instance, may become
anxious because he knows enough to understand the potential negative
outcomes associated with the lack of a steady income.
be concerned about the possibility of having to move out of his
neighborhood, or not having enough money to get by. A
five-year-old who knows “where babies come from” may find the whole
subject so fascinating that he shares his expert knowledge with all who
In short, there is a certain bliss in the innocence of childhood that
may be lost on gifted children who are enlightened too quickly
concerning life’s mysteries.
Gifted children are often thought to be more emotionally perceptive and
responsive than their peers. Some people have described them as
having finely tuned antennae when it comes to picking up and responding
to emotional signals that come from within themselves or from those
Some researchers have reported that gifted children may:
• Be overly empathetic to other people’s problems or
situations. They might show a tendency to make the problem their
own, and mirror the moods or emotional state of the person they are
• Overreact to frustration, rejection, success, or
any situation that triggers an emotional response – for example,
sobbing over an outwardly minor disappointment.
• Be overly sensitive to criticism or disapproval, or
respond strongly to minor suggestions or comments about their work or
• Worry too much about global situations such as
poverty, war, and natural disasters over which they have no control.
• Read too much into other people’s comments or body
Friendships are often based on similarities. We tend to connect
with others who are like us in some way. That is not to say that
two people need to be clones of each other to bond - differences are
often what make a relationship interesting and may be what initially
attracts one person to another.
it's fair to say that long-term relationships are often kept going
because the people involved are somehow similar. And arguably,
mental similarities are one of the most - if not the most - important
ways that people connect and stay connected.
tend to become close with those who think like us, not necessarily
people who have the same opinions or outlook, but rather those who
understand our ideas and perspectives, share similar interests, and
with whom we can carry on a mutually meaningful conversation. Children
and teens form meaningful and lasting relationships in much the same
A potential problem for gifted children is that they often think in a
different way than most of their age peers – those they are likely to
spend a great deal of time with.
have the physical appearance and probably the emotional maturity of
their classmates, but may have the vocabulary, interests, and reasoning
ability of those much older than themselves.
don't really fit into either group. Consequently, developing meaningful
friendships can be more difficult for gifted children, and this problem
can become more pronounced as cognitive ability increases. Put
another way, the pool of potential same age "mental mates" shrinks as
Self-esteem can be thought of as the opinion we hold of
ourselves. So where do we get this opinion? As children, we
begin to develop a mental picture of ourselves in several different
areas, including how we look, how we act, how popular we are, and how
good we are at learning.
mental picture is formed from early childhood through feedback we get
from others and from comparing ourselves to those around us. The
picture becomes clearer and more fixed as we get older, since our ideas
about who we are get reinforced over time.
mature, we also develop a concept of an "ideal person," or how we
"ought to be." These ideas are likely formed through messages
received from sources around us like our parents, teachers, peers, and
Our self-esteem, then, comes from comparing our mental picture of who
we are to who we think we should be. Our feelings about ourselves
can differ greatly according to what area of our lives we are
considering and how we measure up to the ideal.
While studies show that many gifted children have high global
self-esteem (how they feel about themselves in general) and high
self-esteem when it comes to academics, it is also known that they are
not immune to having poor opinions about themselves.
esteem issues may be particularly troublesome for gifted children who
are prone to perfectionism – the desire to do everything just right
before one can be satisfied with the outcome.
their own potential and capabilities, these kids may get the feeling
that they should be able to do just about anything, and then become
frustrated when they don’t perform up to their own expectations.
example, getting less than perfect grades, not making the varsity
sports team, or not winning an award for the best science project may
make the gifted child feel that he has let himself down.
may also be negatively affected when gifted kids feel that they are not
measuring up to other high-achieving students, or to mentors whom they
see as role models or intellectual equals.
Gifted children who are not able to live up to their own unrealistic or
perfectionist expectations, or those who feel alienated from the rest
of the world because of their intellectual differences, may develop
feelings of sadness or depression.
is particularly true for the highly gifted child or teen who may
develop the sense that the world they live in is a foreign land where
everyone thinks and acts differently than they do.
they get older, these children may begin to question the meaning of a
world that is seemingly run by those whose values and interests are so
different from their own.
Becoming caught up in academic competitiveness can also lead to
depression and other serious consequences. It is known, for
instance, that suicide attempts occur more frequently among young
people who excel academically, are highly creative, and attend highly
The very traits that help gifted children excel in learning can make it
difficult for them to participate in many school programs.
• Because they are usually able to complete tasks
quickly, they may become disinterested in a subject once they
feel they have mastered it, and then begin to tune out the teacher
while they move on to different things in their own minds.
These children may be perceived as unfocussed or as "daydreamers."
• They may be more focused on the big idea, rather
than the small details of a school task or subject. The
organization of their school work may appear to be lacking and
attention to detail may be missing. They may be perceived as
disorganized, inattentive, or defiant.
• They may not need as much structure and teacher
guidance as most and prefer to guide their own learning and move at
their own pace. Teachers may become frustrated with students who
are always moving ahead or getting "off topic."
• Because they learn and complete work at such a fast
pace they could spend much of their school day with little to do or
nothing to engage their attention. Some become bored, apathetic,
discouraged, or rebellious.
• Their thoughts may come faster than they can write
- so there is often a disconnect between how they think and what they
produce on paper. This could lead a teacher to group gifted
children with students of much lower ability, thus frustrating the
Teachers that are not skilled at adapting their instruction to meet the
needs of gifted learners may feel threatened by how quickly the child
learns, or by how much they know.
teachers may try to make the gifted child conform to the pace of the
classroom through reprimands or discipline techniques that create hard
feelings or a poor working relationship between the teacher and the
Ways Kids Cope
Gifted children are as diverse a group as any other, and no two
children are alike. How they navigate through the social world
and cope with the stresses of growing up may have more to do with
individual personality traits, or the type of emotional support they
get from others, than with their IQ.
Yet there are some common themes when it comes to how gifted kids
cope. Because of the social isolation and negative feedback they
may encounter, there is some evidence that, as they get older and have
more of these experiences, some gifted children start to downplay their
abilities, becoming guarded or holding back when they are around
children their own age.
may disguise their abilities in other ways - like focusing on
nonacademic-related talents, or simply choosing to isolate themselves
from others kids, preferring to be alone or choosing the company of
Many though, as they mature and gain the insight that comes from
experience and maturity, learn to accept and appreciate their
differences without any long-term negative consequences.
Whether or not a child is dealing with any of the issues outlined in
this chapter, parents can help their kids through the school
• Being there to listen, understand, and support them
emotionally when they are going through a stressful period.
• Providing them with opportunities to develop and
explore their interests and connect with others who hold similar
• Avoiding pushing them to excel or compete – or
excessively praising them for their accomplishments.
• Encouraging fun, playful activities and downtime.
Most importantly, research (and common sense) tells us that all
children benefit from having at least one caring,
supportive in their lives who
provides structure, consistency, and a sense of unconditional love,
warmth, and encouragement.
Reframing the "Problem"
Again, the research is mixed when it comes to gifted kids and social
adjustment. Being gifted certainly does not mean that a child will have
a rough time growing up.
of the potential negative effects of a high IQ may never arise,
particularly for those children who measure in that "optimal" range of
around 120 to 145.
studies have, in fact, shown that most gifted children are
well-adjusted and have no more social problems than most.
It’s also true that the denser and more efficient neural connections
that some believe are related to gifted children’s emotional
sensitivity and other issues can also help them in social
of the same characteristics that seem to create problems for some
gifted children can lead to positive outcomes in others – and many of
the possible drawbacks associated with giftedness can also be viewed as
For instance, highly developed sensitivity and emotionality may help
gifted children develop social insight, enhance their capacity to
understand and connect with others, and boost their ability to adapt to
different social groups.
of causing them to overreact or have melt-downs over little
things, being highly sensitive may allow gifted children to be
more responsive to others’ needs, and give them an advantage in reading
others’ body language, feelings, and emotions.
Similarly, having fewer social contacts, or true friends, could
certainly be viewed as a negative aspect of giftedness. But for
some children it may just mean that they are more discerning when it
comes to choosing who they hang out with.
preferring to be alone at times does not necessarily mean the child is
suffering from social isolation. Gifted children are often highly
introspective, and choose to be alone to develop their gifts through
Other gifted characteristics with possible negative implications, such
as boredom with school routines, bossiness, and questioning of
authority, can also be viewed as early signs of an independent thinker
or a natural leader.
Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/?expert=Dave_Palmer
David Palmer, Ph.D., is a parent, award winning researcher, and
educational psychologist currently practicing in Orange County,
California. He has served as Assistant Professor of Education at
California State University, Los Angeles, and has lectured on
university campuses, including UCLA, in the areas of counseling,
assessment, and education. Dr. Palmer has personally administered
hundreds of IQ tests to child of all ages and ability levels andn has
helped many families find the right school program for thier child.
Dr. Palmer is author of the new book, Parents'
Guide to IQ Testing and Gifted Education: All you need to know to make
the right decisions for your child
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