“Summer will end soon enough, and childhood as well.” –George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones
As a teacher of gifted students and a parent of a gifted student, I can confidently say that regardless of having many talents and academic abilities, a gifted kid is still a kid. I am a strong proponent of enrichment and opportunity for all students, as needed. However, sometimes we wonder why gifted students have a difficult time choosing a career, or a college, or even a favorite activity. Some gifted students do, indeed, have a wide array of talents in different areas and it can be overwhelming to narrow down one interest. But, perhaps it’s not only the students who are to blame for difficulty experienced in choosing one area of focus.
Some parents have a theory that if a child does not try an activity then they will not know whether or not they enjoy it. So we have students with ballet, tap, and art lessons on Monday, basketball practice, tumbling, and piano lessons on Tuesday, jazz, hip hop, volleyball practice, and Taekwondo on Wednesday, chess, cheering, book club, and ball games on Thursday, and tournaments, whether academic or athletic, sprinkled on weekends with additional practices I haven’t even mentioned. You may think I’m being ridiculous, or you may have just pictured three families you know personally who fit this description. These are mostly opportunities that happen outside of school. Students also spend all day in school and may have hours of homework to complete at night. Some schools offer academic competitions, even 10-20, which I am a great advocate of but it reminds me of the old saying, “All things in moderation.”
In trying to provide all we can for students/children, is it possible that we are losing more than we are gaining? If sports and activities teach teamwork and commitment, what does time spent with siblings, parents, and grandparents teach? What about volunteering? What about attending church? What about rest and relaxation? What about trips to museums, libraries, and time spent at birthday parties? What about part time jobs or chores? While some would argue kids can do all these things mentioned so far, I don’t believe that would be healthy or that all of them could be done at 100% capacity. Consider the following statistics reported by the Child Mind Institute (childmind.org):
*Depression and bipolar disorder affect 14.3% of youth age 13-17.
*Nearly one in three adolescents (31.9%) will meet criteria for an anxiety disorder by the age of 18.
*Adolescent girls are more than twice as likely to experience depression than boys, 15.9% vs. 7.7%.
*High school students today have more anxiety symptoms and are twice as likely to see a mental health professional as teens in the 1980s.
Of course, I am not pointing the finger at other people. This is an issue that affects me as well, personally and professionally. Could our rush, consciously or unconsciously, to fill our agendas actually be harming our kids? As parents and educators, we are the ones filling the calendars. We provide or allow participation in activities, and we are the ones who make the decision to eliminate activities if that is what is best for a child.
It’s an accepted fact that some of the most worthwhile, creative innovation comes from doing nothing. It is good to let kids be bored because figuring out what to do in that time is teaching them how to problem solve, gives them time to use their mind, and can lead to future career success. Think Genius Hour. It has been reported that, “The search-engine giant, Google, allows its engineers to spend 20% of their time to work on any pet project that they want. The idea is very simple. Allow people to work on something that interests them, and productivity will go up. Google’s policy has worked so well that it has been said that 50% of Google’s projects have been created during this creative time period” (geniushour.com). New, innovative ideas don’t always come from people who have every minute of their life planned out in a calendar of scheduled activities.
When it comes to living a rich and meaningful life, is it quantity or quality that matters most for our experiences? Is an overfilled calendar what is best? A gifted kid is still a kid, and that is a season that passes all too quickly. When will we let gifted kids simply be kids?
Updated from publication in the North Carolina Association for the Gifted & Talented newsletter, Volume 38, Number 2 (Spring 2018)