Peer Pressure on Gifted Youth

        Tons of articles and media always have choice words about middle and high school. Among other things, they claim there is an immense amount of pressure to conform. Whether this pressure is societal or peer-induced in nature is rarely distinguished between; I suppose that one type influences the other. But regardless of source, this pressure is portrayed as an all-engulfing mire of Acting Like Sheep, that sucks in people of Great Talent and leaves them as gasping fish, forever floundering in mediocrity.
         Obviously this is not a pretty picture. However, peer pressure is a powerful force that, while often antagonized, has a natural and often beneficial effect on gifted children.
        The vast majority of today's Western gifted youth, myself included, don't find like minds to befriend until very late in the game. Such loneliness is caused by a combination of factors that isolate the gifted child from other children, primarily age-grouping instead of ability-grouping in classrooms. Substituting intellectual peers for agemates causes many issues, including a lack of social skills, rifts in ability and fields of interest between the child and her/his peers, and dreaminess or an off-putting sense of superiority. Thus the typical gifted youth spends the majority of his/her time pursuing solitary interests at the expense of social stimulation.
        Such a lonely existence can drive the gifted person to eventually seek friendship of some kind, whether or not the chosen peer is an ideal fit for the child. Thus the need for social acceptance at times overpowers the need for authenticity. At times like those, the child puts on a happy mask, shoves any socially unacceptable aspects of him/herself into a little black box, and makes friends with the nicest-looking clique. Such a phase of sudden conformity may lead concerned adults to think the youth is throwing away his/her potential.
        However, when conforming to socially-accepted standards, nobody's throwing away anything. All the talents are still there. The abilities lie as dormant little bean sprouts, waiting to be watered and fed by stimulation of the mind, heart and soul. The potential for greatness only dies with the person. What the gifted conformists have given up is their sense of individual identity. And perhaps the outward manifestations of their abilities, for a while, simply because the inner manifestations of ability aren't being exercised in order to meet this need of acceptance.

Abilities are bean sprouts.

        So, parents: don't be alarmed if your talented kid suddenly hides their abilities to fit in. The drive for mastery, learning and stimulation will surface eventually. All "drives" exist within a gifted child: social acceptance, authenticity, intellectual mastery, spirituality, stability, instability, growth, etc. The intensities and timings of different drives fluctuate throughout life. It's nothing to be alarmed by.
         Learning how to socialize and conform to other people can be a valuable life lesson. When interacting with others, we all subconsciously adapt our demeanor to who we're interacting with. Navigating the tricky nuances of what to say and how to act can be exhausting and involve lots of trial-and-error. The gifted child succumbing to the forces of peer pressure is in fact learning this important skill. The 21st century is full of notions of teambuilding and working together to complete a job. Social skills are part of the essential toolkit of modern youth.
        More to come later on the happy medium between social acceptance and individuality.


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