Gifted Children and Bullying: Victims and Perpetrators
Grouping the brightest kids together at school makes sense—classwork should always be challenging, and programs for gifted children often offer them harder assignments to keep them on their toes. However, if grouping removes them from contact with their “normal” peers, that distance may lead to alienation, resentment and bullying. But it’s not just the gifted children at the receiving end of the social wrath. Our 2005 national survey of gifted children has dispelled this bullying myth. While 46 percent of gifted youth reported being bullied in middle school, 16 percent of them reported being the bully (1, 2). Victimization of gifted students increased from a surprising 27 percent in kindergarten to 46 percent in grade 6, the peak year.
The 1999 shootings at Columbine High School brought national attention to the problem of bullying and exceptional students, since the school shooters had been identified as gifted. In our study of gifted students, 29 percent reported that they’d had violent thoughts in grade 8—a steady increase from 5 percent in kindergarten. Because they were responding to a yes/no question, the kinds or directions of thoughts aren’t known, although, during interviews, two bully targets said, “I thought of doing bad things to them” and “It just feels like anger inside of me that I want to release.”
Bullying Behavior K-8
We examined 13 specific kinds of bullying behavior gifted kids experience or inflicted on others, ranging from teasing and knocking books out of hands, to pushing, threats, and “beating up.” “Mean girl” bullying—exclusion, rumor spreading and harassment—had not yet appeared in the media. The exclusion of these types of social bullying in the research, along with the even more recent concept of cyberbullying, may have skewed the results. Nevertheless, 67 percent of the gifted participants had been a bully target sometime during K-8, and 25 percent of sixth-grade male victims and 24 percent of fifth-grade female victims had been bullied repeatedly.
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