Traversing the Straits of Adolescence: A Guide for Parents of Profoundly Gifted Teens

By — Davidson Institute for Talent Development
Updated on Jul 26, 2007

One of the frustrations for parents (and PG teens, too!) is the grand intellect that seems to fly in the face of the "goofiness" associated with the teen years. At one moment, you are trying to rationalize with a teen worried about zits and dates and telephone conversations--in the blink of an eye, this teen takes on the persona of a high priced attorney, wielding the vocabulary and powers of argumentation that would make Johnny Cochran squirm.

This swing between intellect and awkwardness can be disconcerting; especially when it happens at break-neck pace. In fact, quick swings between the extremes can be very problematic for an adolescent trying to understand her/his fit in the world; and, struggling with a developing sense of personal identity.

A little guidance from parents can provide support your PG teen desperately needs to successfully journey through the adolescent years as (s)he explores the boundaries of adulthood and stretches to plan an individualized sense of self.

On True Peers and Friendship

PG individuals exist as a tiny portion of the population. For instance, a person with a 150 IQ is around 1/10,000; a 160 IQ is around 1/100,000; a 180+ IQ is around 1/1,000,000 people (Gagne, 2003; Hollingworth, 1942). There are pretty small odds of happening across someone of "equal par" intellectually; let alone intellectually and of the same chronological age.

As shown above, the number of intellectual peers will by necessity be very small. About 0.25% of the general population exists at profoundly gifted (IQ 160+) levels of intelligence (Kline & Meckstroth, 1985). Factor in interests, compatibility and home location; and the odds become stacked against consistent friendships. But, when the odds are beat, and a connection is made, it could run very deep and likely be life-long (even if the connection was made over just a 10-minute span of time!).

Another factor influencing friendship is a need for alone time (or as I call it Me-Time) (Schultz & Delisle, 2003; Schultz, 2003). The continuous flurry of activity in the PG mind causes individuals to seek internal solace as they work through the myriad possibilities whirring around in their head. Indeed, the higher the level of intellect, the more the need for personal refuge.

So, a small number of friends actually works positively for many gifted teens. They get the Me-Time needed without the pressure to keep friendships nurtured. Interestingly, PG peers understand the need for Me-Time and are very understanding with one another. Perhaps this is one reason (among many) the friendships between PG individuals are deep.

As for age peers, it is very likely your teen is "beyond" agemates in many ways. Her/His peer groups (no one has just one) are going to include people who are interesting and intellectually closer in ability. In PG teens' cases this means adults and a very rare age peer or two (tops!). By the way this is exactly the same situation for adults. We choose peers and friends by interest rather than age.

Is your daughter/son a loner? Maybe, maybe not. In fact, with PG individuals this is not necessarily a negative condition, as we've seen above. The more important question--is (s)he reasonably comfortable in this situation? As long as (s)he can answer positively, and is talking to you; worry not about lack of friends.

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