Middle Matters: Guiding Gifted Girls Through the Middle School Maze
"What in the world has happened to my daughter?" wonder many parents of early adolescent girls. They are puzzled by the rapid and confusing changes in the personality, academic achievement, friendships, school attitudes, and appearance of their female children. Especially dramatic in gifted girls, these changes may be a part of running away from intellectual and artistic pursuits into an identity as "cute," "popular," and "cool."
From a competitive, smart, accomplished, self-assured, "Supergirl"-like fourth grader, the sixth- or seventh-grade preteen girl is often moody and dissatisfied with herself. Conforming and passive at school, middle school girls may relinquish their prowess on the athletic field and in the classroom for membership in the right clique of girls, acceptance by the boys, and quiet mediocrity.
As the parent of a gifted daughter (now 21 years old), as a middle-school teacher for more than 20 years, and after working with gifted students for the last 14, I have realized that the gifted girl's painful transition through middle school may have a terrible cost, both for her personally and for all of us as a society if the potential contributions of these talented young women are lost.
ROOTS OF THE PROBLEMS
There are many reasons why these changes may occur. Gender stereotypes in the electronic and print media offer challenges to the healthy psychological development of gifted girls. We often see 11- and 12-year-olds switch from Ranger Rick and Discover to teen magazines where girls ogle over the few acceptable bodies and fashions the mainstream culture suggests are the feminine ideal. Rarely do articles in these magazines encourage academic excellence and achievement, dedicated artistic pursuits, or athletic determination (unless it's related to diet and weight loss).
Early adolescence seems to be a particularly critical time for gifted girls when the pressures to conform to this societal standard of "beauty" seem to be particularly intense. Some girls may choose to rebel in the opposite direction with body piercing, tattoos, shaved heads, and "grunge" or outlandish clothing.
Girls get mixed messages from our culture and our schools. On the one hand, we encourage them to achieve in programs that emphasize performance, mastery, test scores, and reaching specific academic and vocational goals. On the other hand, female psychological development tends to emphasize the value of relationships, nurturance, collaboration, and caring. Role conflict about being a "Superwoman" results, and girls (as well as women) aren't sure how to establish a healthy and productive balance between achievement and relationships, between collaboration and competition.
Reprinted with the permission of the National Association for Gifted Children. ©2008 National Association for Gifted Children.
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