From an early age, our son was inquisitive, precocious and speaking full sentences by the time he was two. When I was out in public with him, older women would always comment on his verbal ability. And they’d all say the same thing, “Oh, he must be gifted. He’s going to go to Harvard, I can tell!”
Early in his education, our son was labeled “gifted” by our district and we signed paperwork for a Gifted Individualized Education Plan (GIEP). Though we were relieved to have many of his study habits and thought processes explained and demystified, we realized quickly that the “gifted” label can be a burden for kids.
Over the years, our son has been expected to be a high achiever because of his big brain.
We were told that gifted kids can be scattered and disorganized because their brains process information at a high rate of speed. We learned that gifted kids can have difficulty with instructions that involve more than two steps, and they can suffer from anxiety related to disorganization and high expectations.
All of that came to a head when our son hit the halls of high school. Suddenly, the stakes were higher and the pressure on our son to perform mounted exponentially.
His GIEP was a godsend in that it allowed for accommodations for his learning style early in his education. But when he started high school, I was shocked that his teachers automatically expected that he’d be a stellar, straight A student. It was as if the years leading up to high school had been the preparation for a high-pressured race to the Ivy League. And our son was expected to rise to the challenge.
Instead, he started to buckle under the pressure of being labeled gifted.
Gifted kids are expected to be the valedictorians and the kids who can juggle AP classes with a demanding extracurricular activity schedule. Gifted kids are expected to achieve perfect scores on standardized tests and high marks on college entrance exams.
In short, gifted kids are expected to be the kids who go on to graduate and fill the classrooms of Ivy League universities, but that’s not always the best choice for them.
In our house, the college years might look different for our son because the traditional four-year college route might not be the best fit for the goals he wants to achieve after high school.
Our son is interested in a career in film and while the argument could be made that a four-year film degree is the way to go, we’ve also been weighing the idea of him applying for an internship at a movie studio or effects firm right out of high school. Because the area of film he wants to pursue is highly technical, spending four years learning about the history of film might not be the best career choice.
And we are okay with him choosing a different path because a four-year college degree isn’t for everyone, even kids with gifted IQs. So if our son decides to forego college in favor of pursuing a career without a degree behind his name, we will support him.
If we’ve learned anything as parents, it’s that every child is unique and every kid brings their own special talents to the table.
Few adults have stuck with the career they picked when they were 18, including me. I no longer practice in the field in which I hold a degree, and I want our son to have the flexibility to explore his passions and career options without the weight of the expectation he’ll attend a four-year college hanging over his head.
When my husband and I have mentioned that we’d be okay if our son skipped college, most of our friends have been surprised. “But, he’s so smart! Aren’t you worried that he’s going to ruin his life?” they ask.
And my answer is always, “Nope. I’m not worried in the least.”
Since he was little, our son has always done things to the beat of a different drum. The beat of his learning curve and the cadence with which he approaches life has always been uniquely his own. When he was a baby, he chose to scoot across the floor on his butt with his legs crossed rather than crawl. When I’d watch him scooting after the other kids at Mommy and Me, I’d always think, “He’s going places, but it might take him a little bit longer to get there.”
And now that he’s a teenager, I’m willing to let him set his own path. Because he’s the only one who can make the choices that will be music to his ears.
This post originally appeared on Your Teen for Parents.