Life is Far Harder Than Expected for Formerly “Gifted” Students

Schools have special programs for kids with high test scores. These “gifted” programs give academically blessed children opportunities to expand their minds and cover topics the standard classes don’t have time for. 

Many would think that these opportunities set gifted kids up for success, but far too often, the opposite is true. Talented kids struggle in adulthood, unable to achieve the potential everyone so proudly claimed they had. 

One user came to Reddit to ask why this phenomenon happens. “Why do former gifted students commonly end up messed up as they get older,” they asked the popular Too Afraid To Ask Subreddit, which allows users to ask weird and unusual questions. 

Users from various backgrounds shared their opinions on why formerly gifted students struggle. Does any of this speak to you?

Held To Higher Standards

A teacher earned gold for sharing their experience with gifted students. 

“Gifted kids are held to a standard that other kids aren’t,” they said. “When they slack off or produce sub-par work, people get really disappointed. It’s hard to maintain that level of success.”

Others said gifted kids are used to set the standard, which can ultimately hurt them in the long run. 

“This is something I’ve always hated,” admitted one formerly gifted child. “Being the golden standard, the bar everyone would be compared to. Suddenly I was no longer a human being but a performance to be judged.”

Not Nurtured

Another pointed out that some educational programs get their gifted programs all wrong. 

“We don’t really cultivate the talents that gifted kids show,” said one user. “We just expect that those talents make learning easier for them, and so we don’t have to actually help.” They added that despite the lack of guidance, schools judge gifted children harshly for making mistakes because educators expect more from them. 

Another mentioned that gifted kids often don’t get individual attention from teachers because other kids seem to need it more. 

Perfectionist Complex

The higher standards often give gifted kids a perfectionist complex. One user shared they felt they needed to get everything right the first time. They feared people would assume they didn’t try if they didn’t get everything right. 

“That’s why I never try anything,” admitted one user. “You can’t fail if you never try.”

Another said they understood this as early as elementary school. “You’re the smart one! You’re supposed to just know how to do things!” they shared, explaining that this perception limited their ability to make mistakes and improve

It’s Never Enough

Some formerly gifted students said they could never be good enough to meet expectations. 

“They’ll ask you to reach for the stars, but when you grasp them, they’ll still say that it’s not enough,” replied one. “You can do everything right, and they’ll still dispute your success and put you under a microscope in the hopes of finding a tiny little nothing-burger to discredit you.”

Not Learning To Study

Part of school is learning how to study. When everything comes easy at a lower grade, skills don’t learn this valuable skill, which is much harder to develop when you’re older. 

“I was placed in gifted classes and never really put any effort into my schoolwork. This trained me to believe I was so smart that I didn’t even need to study. Then, when the coursework got more difficult, I continued to not study, as I had learned, and my grades suffered,” shared one. 

Another said college was a huge adjustment, as they had to learn how to study for the first time in their life. 

Teaching the Wrong Values

Many said they were taught to value innate traits like intelligence rather than traits they could develop, like work ethics. 

“I say tell your kids “good work” instead of “you’re so smart” when they succeed. If you can teach them to value working for what you achieve instead of expecting your intelligence to carry you through, I think that’s a valuable lesson,” shared one user. 

This also makes kids feel worthless when they aren’t the most intelligent person in the room or struggle to solve a problem. 

“Because you’re not perfect the first time or better than everyone else the fastest, you feel like a failure and incapable,” added another Redditor. “Now you can’t even be proud of yourself unless someone else is because you always got external validation and don’t know how to validate yourself.”

No Need To Try

Because learning comes easy for gifted kids, they never need to try. Unfortunately, life isn’t always easy, and gifted kids don’t know how to cope when things get tough. 

“School never challenged me. I never put any effort forward because it wasn’t required. That changed when I went to college, and I failed badly. I didn’t know how to apply my brain,” said one. 

“Gifted kids aren’t pushed,” replied another, saying the system “doesn’t breed a motivated genius; it creates underachieving people that are used to getting by on natural talent.”

Life Happens

One formerly gifted student said academic success doesn’t stop life from happening. 

“Life ends up with outcomes of people all over the map with various levels of success. Just because you’re gifted doesn’t mean you also have economic, health, and support group advantages,” said one, adding that the “lack of two of those knocked me down and being almost 60, now I never could recoup my early success.”

It’s a Myth

One person came to the thread to ask if it’s true that gifted kids have disproportionately bad outcomes when compared to non-gifted kids. 

A user who said they’re a clinical psychologist said it’s not. “It’s a common myth that giftedness is associated with higher rates of mental or neurodevelopmental disorders,” they said.  “It isn’t, and these myths at least partially come from anecdotes and people misapplying the gifted label as well as misapplying mental health diagnoses.”

“The fact nobody in here gave actual scientific evidence (just anecdotes and opinion) other than MattersOfInterest, despite claiming having been in the gifted program at their school, is pretty ironic,” said another. 

Gifted Kids Just Like Everyone Else

Some gifted kids will excel at life, and others will fail, just like kids who weren’t in the program. The “gifted” kids may have complicated feelings about it based on their “potential,” but there’s nothing different about their achievement rates. 

This post was inspired by a Reddit thread and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Partners in Fire.

Author: Melanie Allen

Title: Journalist

Expertise: Pursuing Your Passions, Travel, Wellness, Hobbies, Finance, Gaming, Happiness

Melanie Allen is an American journalist and happiness expert. She has bylines on MSN, the AP News Wire, Wealth of Geeks, Media Decision, and numerous media outlets across the nation and is a certified happiness life coach. She covers a wide range of topics centered around self-actualization and the quest for a fulfilling life.