Home Life by Bev and Phil Haas
Our sixth grade son is intellectually gifted but based on his behavior you wouldn’t know it. He’s not mean spirited, but he just doesn’t think and keeps getting into trouble at school. Last year he brought a knife to school to show his friends. Recently he was suspended for spraining a girl’s wrist while “messing around.” What’s going on with him and how do we get him through these middle school years?
Parenting an adolescent boy can be challenging because change and growth are integral parts of his life. Thinking rationally doesn’t necessarily occur simultaneously.
According to the National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH), a surge of production of the brain’s gray matter occurs prior to puberty and centers on the frontal lobe. This is the control center for “executive functions” such as planning, impulse control, and reasoning.
According to Dr. Laurence Steinberg, professor of psychology at Temple University, changes in the adolescent brain involving the way it processes rewards and pleasure often result in an increase in attention seeking behavior for social rewards and acceptance that may be risky or unacceptable to adults. The behavior might even seem to be at odds with the development of higher-order thinking abilities.
“Maturation of the brain, including the regulation of impulses, thinking ahead, planning and weighing risk and reward lead to improvements in self-regulation and can permit the individual to put the brakes on the sensation-seeking behaviors,” said Steinberg, “but they occur very gradually and are not complete until the mid-twenties . . . . As this happens, the two systems—the one processing pleasure and the other regulating impulses—learn to work together. This allows for better coordination of thinking and feeling.”
Thinking and feeling need to work together to control impulsive behavior. Your son isn’t able to think and plan ahead the way you do.
Your gifted child may be plagued with asynchronous development—uneven intellectual, physical, and emotional development. In many children, these areas progress at about the same rate. However, in gifted children, the development of those areas is often out of sync. Your child’s developmental profile could look like this: intellectually he may perform at the level of a 17 year old, have the emotional maturity of an 8 year old, and physically be developed as a 12 year old. In fact, the higher a child’s IQ, the more out of sync his or her development is likely to be.
What to Do?
Provide opportunities for open communication and problem solving. Encourage your son to envision the future consequences of his actions. Listen for clues about what’s happening in your son’s life. What would be some tempting choices? Then ask, “What are some options?” “What might happen with that choice?” “Are there better choices?”
Provide opportunities to participate in controlled risky behavior. When properly supervised, sports or extreme sports such as rock climbing will allow him to play out the “It can’t happen to me” mentality in an environment that won’t be life changing if he fails, and will increase his physical and emotional strength.
Provide opportunities to get involved in community service. Teens want to become active in things that have deeper meaning. Where would he like to volunteer? This year two seventh graders we know raised over $1,000 for a teen diagnosed with leukemia; others did yard work for the elderly.
Build a genuine relationship with your teen. Be honest and open. Talk about mistakes and vulnerabilities. Try to understand his feelings and express yours. Find out what he thinks about current events, politics, and his faith.
Know your son’s friends. Be a hands-on parent; too often parents let go and give too much freedom too soon. Despite teens’ objections, make sure you know who their friends are and where they are going. Paul warns us that “bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33). Provide fun things to do at home that will encourage teens to “hang out” at your house.
Teen years can be frustrating and fun. Enjoy the good in this stage, for it soon shall pass!
Send your questions about family life to Phil and Bev Haas in care of The Lookout, 8805 Governor’s Hill Drive, Suite 400, Cincinnati, OH 45249, firstname.lastname@example.org.We regret that personal replies are not always possible. Phil and Bev Haas are involved in education and family ministry in Cincinnati, Ohio. They are the parents of two children, and they have one grandson.