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Too gifted to get a job? Teens and summer employment

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A common topic in gifted circles is the problem of children (and adults) who are so good at so many things that they can't settle on just one.

The technical term for it is multi-potentiality.

As a correspondent to the NY Gifted Education Examiner wrote earlier:

MultiPotentiality is an educational & psychological term referring to a pattern found among intellectually gifted individuals... When encountering multiple opportunities, some students may experience confusion, anxiety and frustration because they fear missing something or making a wrong decision. This is where it looks "lazy."

(He goes on for many, many more paragraphs. You can read the entire rant, here.)

The above author may very well be this father's son, who writes:

The idea that a kid should be forced to “get a job” is abhorrent. My son was very gifted so we gave him all the tools to succeed academically. This meant we didn't turn him into slave labor and we certainly didn't tell him he needed to go work behind a cash register. He concentrated on his school work, and we did our job as parents and financially supported him. It’s easy to mock a “30 year old who lives with is parents.” My son is almost 29 and he’s been home with us since he graduated. Unfortunately the job market isn't the greatest (maybe you hadn't heard) and I'm not going to let him starve on the street. He has a college education, it’s pointless for him to be out working in a retail store or some other menial job. I will be here for him until he is able to get the job he deserves.

On the other hand, a mom at Kveller offers:

My husband was adamant. No son of his was going to lie around lazy and shiftless for three months, sleeping under our roof, and eating our food, without contributing anything. My husband is currently a teacher, but he spent a portion of his career doing hiring for tech companies. There, he met people who didn't know how to show up on time, meet deadlines, dress for a professional environment, shake hands and look others in the eye, or–most importantly–take responsibility for their actions instead of always looking for someone else to blame. To him, a summer job is mandatory for teaching all those skills before our son steps out into the real world workforce.

Of particular note is that both the father and son in the above post are considered gifted by New York City standards, having attended Stuyvesant High School (the one the mayor is currently in the process of trying to make less of a meritocracy).

Furthermore:

The teenage brain, it seems, actually needs challenge and responsibility so that they can learn to make proper decisions and control their basic fight-or-flight reflex that was so handy back in the days when it was either hunt or be hunted. In fact, several scientists have floated the theory that the 21st Century spike in teen depression, suicide and substance abuse is because well-meaning parents have protected their children so much, have sheltered them from life’s hardships and absolved them from the consequences of their actions to such a degree, that their still-forming brain is desperately looking for that essential stimulation and, more often than not, coming up empty. A teen brain craves a certain level of stress, accountability, and, my personal favorite, lots and lots of failure. If their teen brains don't get the developmentally appropriate kind of stimulation, they go and create the less productive kind.

Read more at: http://www.kveller.com/blog/parenting/kid-its-time-you-got-a-job/

Based on the above, isn't it possible that if the teen-age brain needs the stimulation and challenge of employment, then the gifted teen-age brain craves it even more so? Wouldn't taking the sort of menial job that most teens (even intellectually precocious ones) qualify for actually serve the purpose of helping them to decide what they want to dedicate their talents to and what they don't?

According to a study published in the Journal of Counseling Psychology:

The "illusion" that many high-ability teens are "equally competent at everything" comes from their ability to do well in a variety of classroom subjects and their involvement in a variety of in-school and after-school activities. However, such measures create an artificial ceiling that doesn't allow us to see a student's relative strengths.

In other words, the reason they think they're so good at so many things is because they haven't been challenged above the average level at things that, in fact, are actually pretty difficult at a professional level. After all, the only thing being good at school proves is... that you are good at school.

So the right job can help a gifted teen find out what they are truly good at.

And even a menial job can show them what might happen if they decide to drift from task to task, job to job indefinitely. Mom and Dad won't be around forever. Eventually, they'll have to go into the real world on their own. And then what? Will they continue to explain how they're too special, too full of potential to settle for any old thing? And will they end up in exactly the kind of mindless drudgery that they deem beneath them now, because they never quite got it together to attempt anything better in the future?

Should gifted kids, even more than typically developing ones, be forced to get a job? Tell us in the Comments below.

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