Raising gifted kids

  • Article by: JULIE PFITZINGER , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 1, 2011 - 1:51 PM

A book's latest revision helps guide parents and gifted teens amid today's issues and tomorrow's goals.

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Sally Plampton, 13, is an eighth-grader at Dimensions Academy, a program for gifted learners at Oak Grove Middle School in Bloomington. She plays for the school volleyball team and is a saxophonist in the school band.

Photo: Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune

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Since "The Gifted Teen Survival Guide" was first published in 1983, the fundamental issues facing gifted kids -- both in and outside the classroom -- haven't changed much, though the kids themselves have, according to Judy Galbraith, co-author of the book.

"Kids are a lot more sophisticated today," said Galbraith, founder and president of Free Spirit Publishing in Minneapolis. "However, this doesn't mean they have more sophisticated coping skills."

While today's gifted teens have young role models such as Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who are the founders of Google, and Facebook guru Mark Zuckerberg, who make being smart look cool, the truth is that some avoid the label.

"I always hated the term 'gifted.' I mean, I was always more or less set apart from the other kids in school, and being labeled gifted just made it worse. It gave them one more thing to tease me about," writes Mei, 19, in "The Gifted Teen Survival Guide."

In its fourth revised edition, Galbraith and co-author Jim Delisle address a wide variety of topics for gifted teens, including school (and why some gifted kids don't do well), expectations, advocacy, perfectionism, bullying and friendships. Delisle, who lives in North Carolina, has more than 30 years of experience in teaching gifted kids.

Giftedness is "a greater awareness, a greater sensitivity and a greater ability to understand and transform perceptions into intellectual and emotional experiences," according to a definition attributed in the book to Michigan educator Annemarie Roeper.

More than 1,300 gifted kids worldwide were surveyed for the book; close to 40 percent said they don't really know how to explain giftedness to their friends. About the same percentage wonder why giftedness needs to be talked about at all, since some teens, especially during their middle school years, find themselves burdened by how they are viewed by their peers.

"At that age, kids don't want to stand out for any reason. They don't want people to think they aren't 'normal,'" said Delisle. "I like to use the word 'atypical' when I'm talking with gifted kids. Being gifted isn't abnormal, but they may have skills and talents that aren't typical from those of other kids."

Gifted but more

Sally Plampton, 13, is an eighth-grader at Dimensions Academy (D.A.), a program for gifted learners at Oak Grove Middle School in the Bloomington Public School District. Her favorite subjects are science and math; she plays saxophone in the school band and is on the school volleyball team.

"I guess I don't really know how I feel about being called gifted. I like school and I am motivated to work hard to learn, but everyone has things they are good at," said Sally. "When people ask me if I'm in D.A., it doesn't seem to change what they think about me."

Sally said she's surprised that many of her academy classmates seem to "have thought through their whole lives already" and have set pretty high expectations for themselves.

"I just really want to see what I enjoy in my classes throughout high school," said Sally, adding she thinks it would be "really fun" to be a teacher.

Goals for the child, not the parent

On the subject of expectations for academic achievements in high school and beyond, Galbraith said some parents of gifted students impose their own ideas and unrealized dreams on their kids.

"These kids typically have the potential to be good at a multitude of things, but it's so important for parents to respect their child and listen to what they want," she said. "When they put pressure on their kids about college or a certain career, that can cause tension."

Sally's parents, Tony and Janet Plampton, have always placed a high value on academics for both Sally and her sister, Kate, who also attended D.A. and is now a sophomore at Bloomington Kennedy High School. Their father describes them as "very self-motivated learners." Yet their parents also want the girls to be well rounded and involved in a variety of activities.

"Academic achievement at school is very important, but they have to have a life, too," said Tony Plampton.

Julie Pfitzinger is a West St. Paul freelance writer. Have an idea for the Your Family page? E-mail us at tellus@startribune.com with "Your Family" in the subject line.

  • RESOURCE

    • "The Gifted Teen Survival Guide: Smart, Sharp, and Ready for (Almost) Anything," by Judy Galbraith and Jim Delisle (Free Spirit Publishing, 254 pages, $15.99), www.freespirit.com.

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