Friday, August 1, 2014

In Search of Friendship and Finding Peers



Many theories have been put forward and research papers written about gifted children and how they approach friendship; but it’s not complicated. They seek out their peers. People who are most like them. They might be the same age; or not. They almost certainly share common interests and enjoy each other’s company.

The idea that gifted kids are always socially awkward has been popularized in the media by television shows such as The Big Bang Theory where characters are constantly struggling with ‘fitting in’ which is not always the case. This isn't to say that making friends is always easy for gifted children; they simply view friendship and peer relationships in a different way.

Parents sometimes worry that their child does not have a large circle of friends. It should be noted that gifted children can be very selective in who they choose as friends. They may reject offers of friendship from other children based on their unique view of the world around them and self-concepts. In a recent study, it was determined that contrary to popular belief, they do not suffer from peer rejection any more than children in the general population. (Bain and Bell, 2004) They prefer to form relationships on their own terms.

As in any discussion of gifted children, levels of giftedness must be acknowledged. The ease with which these children develop friendships is often affected by their distance from the norm. Meckstroth and Kearney in Off the Charts Asynchrony and the Gifted Child state,

“Their intellectual and personality characteristics amplify their life experiences, and their differences from the norm tend to exacerbate their sense of dissonance with others.” (285)


High levels of giftedness more often than not are associated with sensitivities, introversion, perfectionism, and a sense of fairness; all factors that affect friendships.

The role of asynchronous development in finding friends can make life interesting for the gifted child but stressful for their parents. Age is often not a determining factor in who they choose as friends. A 10 year-old may feel just as comfortable discussing the latest developments in game theory with a high school student as they are playing a video game with an age-peer.

Maintaining relationships is another matter. Parents play an important role in guiding the choice of friends when their children are young. Christine Fonseca reminds us in her book, Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students:

“Relationships are difficult in the best of situations. This particularly can be true with gifted children, as the rigid nature of their thinking patterns and the overly sensitive emotional nature of their personality can cause conflict with both peers and adults. Typical relationship issues, including developing healthy friendships, bullying problems, trying to ‘fit in’ and handling peer pressure, are appropriate topics for role-playing and parent coaching.”  


There are times, of course, when your child may decide to be friends with someone you feel is a bad influence. You need to tread carefully and consider whether or not to intervene. It may be better to let your child make the decision in this case.

Ultimately, we want our children to be happy. As adults, we generally base our conception of what happiness means based on our own life experiences. Young children need guidance, but if we do our job right … they will find their path to happiness. Providing a strong foundation by modeling the formation of positive and healthy friendships will go a long way in assuring they can do the same.



Photo courtesy of Pixabay



This post is part of Hoagies' Gifted Blog Hop on Friendship for August 2014. Please use the link below to access the entire list of participating blogs.



References:

Bain, Sherry K. and Bell, Sherry Mee (2004). Social Self-Concept, Social Attributions, and Peer Relationships in Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Graders Who Are Gifted Compared to High Achievers. Gifted Child Quarterly, 48, 167 – 178.

Fonseca, Christine (2011). Emotional Intensity in GiftedStudents Helping Kids Cope With Explosive Feelings (p. 139). Waco, Texas: Prufrock Press.




Meckstroth, Elizabeth A. and Kearney, Kathi (2013). Indecent Exposure: Does the Media Exploit Highly Gifted Children? In C. Neville, M. Piechowski & S. Tolan (Eds.), Off the Charts Asynchrony and the Gifted Child (pp. 282 – 291). Unionville, NY: Royal Fireworks Publishing Co., Inc.




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