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Manners and the Gifted Child

When it comes to teaching a gifted child manners, parents fall into two camps. There are those who believe that no matter what their child's IQ, reading level or ability to manipulate numbers like a mathamagician, all young people should be held to the same standards of behavior and civil contract.

And there are those who believe that they shouldn't.

There are parents who insist that gifted children should be allowed to shout out answers in the classroom without raising their hands or waiting their turn because they are so passionate about the subject that they simply can't be expected to control themselves, and that if they are not allowed to indulge their instincts they'll grow bored.

There are parents who believe that children who are experts in a given field should be permitted to interrupt adult conversations and correct people who may not even be speaking to them, because it's good for their self-esteem. Gifted children should not be treated as children in social situations, because their intelligence is more important than their chronological age, and the rules that might apply to others do not apply to them.

These parents argue that life is hard enough for gifted kids, especially when it comes to interacting with their peers and attending school systems that don't understand them. In light of this, making them heed external social conventions is simply cruel. They should be allowed to act however they like with adults, as it might be the only validation they get.

Furthermore, if a child really does know more than an adult on a give topic, they have every right to correct or argue. Age, in this case, is irrelevant.

Last month, First Lady Michelle Obama urged graduating seniors in Kansas to "go forth–when you encounter folks who still hold the old prejudices, because they’ve only been around folks like themselves–when you meet folks who think they know all the answers because they’ve never heard any other viewpoints, it’s up to you to help them see things differently…. Maybe that starts simply in your own family, when grandpa tells that off-colored joke at Thanksgiving, or you've got an aunt talks about ‘those people,’ well, you can politely inform them that they're talking about your friends.”

A mom on took exception, writing:

We believe we have no right to judge our parents, or anyone of their generation and comparable life experiences. Who are we–who didn't live through Jim Crowe laws or Hitler, the Great Society or Stalin, who were still kids during the Entebbe raid or the Crown Heights riots–to tell people that (barely) lived thought it all how they should feel about it?

Our parents don't hold their prejudices (and rest assured, being a minority doesn't make anyone immune; we all have them, there’s no escaping it) because “they’ve only been around folks like themselves.” The exact opposite, actually. They hold their prejudices because they’ve lived around folks different from themselves the majority of their lives. And those folks made them suffer for it. So they’ve chosen to carry a grudge. Who are we to “help” them see things differently? How condescending would that be?

And if my husband and I, both in our 40s, don't feel qualified–much less entitled–to set others straight, as it were, then from what vast wealth of life experience could some random teenagers possibly be?

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What do you think? Should children - no matter how smart - be allowed to correct their elders? Is it rudeness, or completely deserved? Tell us below!

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