Your Precocious Kid Was So Adorable. Now, At 15? Not So Adorable.

photo courtesy of Annie Spratt, Unsplash, CC

Your daughter, Jenny, is editor of the school newspaper. She’s a math whiz, a voracious reader, and a star athlete. At 15, she looks destined for a great life.

Why, then, is she freaking out over what looks like nothing? Why is she still having meltdowns? Why is she screeching at you about your fundamentally inadequate parenting?

She was so darned cute when she was three.

But now, school is a struggle. She questions her teachers’ authority and refuses to turn in assignments that aren’t up to her standards. She criticizes the values of her so-called friends. Even though she has great empathy for the suffering multitudes, there’s no empathy for you. None. Nada. Zilch.

Welcome to adolescence. Welcome to GiftedKid 2.0.

I’m exaggerating. A little. In fact, she really does have empathy for you. Believe it or not, she feels guilty for her outbursts and hides a pressing need to please you. She worries that she’s a disappointment and that she’ll never live up to your expectations. (or her own) Her burning need for intellectual stimulation and her loneliness at not being deeply seen, also trigger her emotional reactivity.

Not to mention, um, hormones.

And, of course, your teen may not be like this at all. Gifted kids come in all shapes, sizes and varieties. But if you relate to the above, you’re not alone.

What can you do? Besides escape to a deserted island until she’s 21?

• Remind yourself that overexcitabilities (OEs) are part of the rainforest-minded  package. Gifted kids are naturally more intense emotionally as well as intellectually.

• Notice if you have your own set of OEs and learn how to nourish yourself, soothe your soul and get your own intellectual needs met.

• Try your best not to take the criticism personally. This is not easy. Breathe. Learn to meditate. Get exercise. Try therapy if your childhood pain is being triggered.

• Listen and reflect her feelings during the emotional turmoil. Problem solve later. No advice. No criticism. Listening is key. It’s a simple idea but not easy to do.

• Read Eileen Kennedy-Moore’s book Smart Parenting for Smart Kids and, ahem, my book, Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth. 

And, when all else fails, take comfort in the words of Andrew Solomon:

“Like parents of children who are severely challenged, parents of exceptionally talented children are custodians of children beyond their comprehension.”


To my bloggEEs: For those of you who are parents, let us know how you experience your precocious adolescents. If you’re a gifted teen, does this sound like you? Or if you were a gifted teen, does this sound familiar? In a future post, I’ll focus on teen boys. But the suggestions apply if you have boys, as well. Thank you all, as always, for being here. Note: Just to clarify. I’m not saying that it’s not OK to question authority, to have high standards or to examine your friends’ values. Heavens, no. OK? Just clarifying.

Author: Paula Prober

I’m a psychotherapist and consultant in private practice based in Eugene, Oregon. I specialize in international consulting with gifted adults and parents of gifted children. I’ve been a teacher and an adjunct instructor at the University of Oregon and a frequent guest presenter at Oregon State University and Pacific University. I’ve written articles on giftedness for the Eugene Register-Guard, the Psychotherapy Networker, Advanced Development Journal and online for psychotherapy dot net, Rebelle Society, Thrive, Introvert Dear, and Highly Sensitive Refuge. My first book, Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth, is a collection of case studies of gifted clients along with many strategies and resources for gifted adults and teens. My second book, Journey Into Your Rainforest Mind: A Field Guide for Gifted Adults and Teens, Book Lovers, Overthinkers, Geeks, Sensitives, Brainiacs, Intuitives, Procrastinators, and Perfectionists is a collection of my most popular blog posts along with writing exercises for self-exploration and insight.

40 responses to “Your Precocious Kid Was So Adorable. Now, At 15? Not So Adorable.”

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  1. Vanessa Avatar

    I am standing in this moment with my 14 year-old-daughter. Like the force, OE’s are strong in my family. I understand her pain all too well and yet still struggle to muster the patience for the most intense moments. I remind myself daily that I never wanted a conventional life or normal kids. Once again, thank you for speaking our language and providing encouragement.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Good reminder, Vanessa. And be sure to take care of yourself. If you’re understanding her pain because you experienced it, too, you’ll want to be gentle with yourself as well.

  2. Susan Krause Avatar
    Susan Krause

    Finally. Someone is saying words that make sense about the 14YO sarcastic and irritable female living in our house.

  3. ine Avatar

    Aaargh! This sounds like my son…except he is 10, so the hormones aren’t even here yet…
    My husband and I discussed the other day that in every way – except physically – he is an adolescent: his way of making a statement, his reasoning, the subjects he is interested in, the of questioning everything, especially us and his upbringing 😉
    Thanks for this post, it reminds me we are doing the right things, we just need to be persistent, haha, and we better brace ourselves: it might take 10 more years and it will get worse before it gets better…

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Actually, that description would also fit for a gifted kid… Thanks for commenting, ine!

  4. licoricelovinglady Avatar

    Thank you, Paula. Another great article to remind me to have compassion for my teen and for myself.

  5. unnahbar Avatar

    The fun thing is – even now as being in my twenties I still feel like I might be less emotionally stable than my peers, even though puberty is over. Maybe I now try to make up for my teen years – I was one of those model students that never talked about what bothered them, at least not with my parents, and now I’m breaking up those structures that hurt me in so many ways.
    Learning how to work through all these emotions is hard work and I think it’s super important to have people who challenge and support you. I guess what would have helped me is to feel less like I need to work through things on my own, to be strong, not to bother my parents. So if there’s any part of advice I would want to give to parents, try to build this kind of relationship when your kids are younger, let them work out things but make them aware of how they can always come to you for help. This might be annoying and painful and stressing you out – but believe me, it feels probably just the same to your gifted teen, who does not know how to deal with overwhelming emotions.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Wonderful advice, unnahbar. There are many reasons kids hide their emotions from parents. Some rainforest-minded teens take on the burdens of their parents and hide their own. So this profile I describe is only one possibility. Learning how to deal with the overwhelming emotions is so important for both the kids and the adults. Thanks for being here!

  6.  Avatar

    Good article…but what if your kid ISN’T really gifted, they are just a “handful”…

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      If your kid isn’t gifted, there are many books/articles that will help you, Anonymous. Many kids of all types are “handful”s so getting help with parenting is important!

  7. Richard Avatar

    Hi Paula. There are a number of variables related to this topic. How gifted is the child, moderate or highly? Environment considerations etc… Speaking only for myself, my childhood was consumed and hampered by my inability to conform, and/or blend in at home or in other social settings such as school. I must say, I am some what concerned about the concept of setting of boundary’s, or expecting a gifted child to understand the value of consistency. In my opinion, although necessary to some degree, boundaries, consistency etc.., maybe kryptonite to a highly gifted child feeling his/her intellectual prowess as it begins to beckon. Drop the reins, set am free, they will find their way home with out your good intentions, once given the space to wander about their Rain Forest pasture. As always Paula, thanks for the opportunity to discuss this important subject matter! Richard

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thanks, Richard. Lots to think about.

  8. Ray Avatar

    I think it is also helpful when parents help their child or the students they work with know that intelligence doesn’t always come with maturity. That authority and respect are not the same and at some point being the adult outranks being the more intelligent person on a subject.

    I deal with a full range of kids from absolutely brilliant (who I want to slap the crap out of them when they feel we are peers) to those students who feel they are just above water academically. I work with all of them to try to show students that skills and gifts come in all parts of life. I find often with teens, the eagerness they have to show up others (including adults) can be one of the hardest behaviors to deal with, but there are loads of opportunities to help guide, remind, and (when needed) blatantly point to life lessons that don’t get covered in classrooms, books, or YOUTUBE.

    * I have shown a teenager that not everyone with big bank accounts and who are financially well off and happy in life had to graduated from college.
    * I showed another that you can pursue your dreams and while it may take longer when mom and dad don’t pay the way, you can do it.
    * I once watched a 20something bomb out of school and hit rock bottom, but today I sit back and smile when I hear how confident they are in their career.

    I learned that many of the students I work with are way more intelligent than I will ever be, but the one thing I give them is boundaries, consistency, authenticity, and provide multiple ways to be humbled in the 4 – 6 years we have together. When they get to their 20’s we usually laugh about it and next weekend I will be at a wedding for a young woman who remind me many times a year, why I do what I do.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Sounds like you love your students, Ray. Appreciate hearing your thoughts and experiences. I love it when I hear from former students or clients. So gratifying. Enjoy the wedding!

  9. Stephanie Avatar

    The listening tip is the best one in my opinion. I am not a parent, but it has not been too long since I was a teenager. I remember dealing with much of this, but I was a pleaser and learned to hide a lot. I think I was about 13 when I told my mom I thought I was depressed. She told me I wasn’t and still refers to people dealing with mental illness as “crazy” and “selfish,” though she is starting to understand more and more. I turned to books and the Internet and finally discovered existential depression and OEs late in college. I wish my parents had been open to listening. We have a better relationship now that I understand myself and my reactions, but I still wish I could be totally open with them and feel accepted.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I so agree that listening is critically important. I’m glad that you did your own research so you could understand yourself and your giftedness, Stephanie. Maybe your relationship with your parents will continue to deepen. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Eileen Kennedy-Moore Avatar
    Eileen Kennedy-Moore

    Yep. Intensity + hormones can be very hard to live with. One of the most generous things we can do as parents is to develop amnesia for our children’s misbehavior. Kids change so rapidly in the young teen years, whatever they did a month ago…that was an entirely different person!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Great point, Eileen. Thanks!

    2. licoricelovinglady Avatar

      What great advice! This probably applies to adults too. Amnesia for misbehaviour aka forgiveness. Thank you, Eileen

  11. ME Avatar

    Be glad she’s all those things. It’s a lot healthier for her than being the emotionally shut-down, angry-but-can’t-express-it “model student” I was at that age. 30+ years later I’m starting to understand how much damage those years and the emotionally abusive excuse for a private school did to me.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Yes. It’s a mixed bag, isn’t it? We want our kids to be critical thinkers and to have high standards for their work. To speak up. I’m just saying that all of that emotion, especially when it’s directed at the parent as rage, can be challenging! At the same time, it’s important for us to be aware of what’s going on for our “model students.” Most definitely. Thanks, ME.

    2. Tanya Avatar

      I’m getting through this time period (my daughter is 13) by telling myself just that, that it’s ultimately a good thing that she can yell at me, be pissed off, and we can work through it together, find solutions or even just accept that we’re both angry at each other but we still love each other. It feels foreign in a lot of ways, though, because I didn’t do this as a teen. I think I understand at least some of why I didn’t, but it still just feels strange, and it’s a helluva lot of work. So yeah, I am holding tight to the idea that the relationship work I put in now will be good, long-term, for both of us.

      1. Paula Prober Avatar
        Paula Prober

        It makes lots of sense to me that the effort you put in now will pay off. Absolutely.

  12. April Avatar

    And when your 15yo is a boy, and cognitively *knows* what is going on, but still can’t help it, and feels guilty about it… sigh…

    And how do you know when this is *normal* for a PG OE kid, and when they need more help than a loving parent can give?

    1. Allison Avatar

      Yep. It’s odd for us because our 16 yo bright boy has serious health issues (to give a feel, he has a pain team now), so there’s the smarts, the normal teen stuff, and then this physical symptoms+resulting anxiety+resulting depression on top of it, and…yeah. He needs more help than I can give on my own. I’m glad he’s getting it.

      1. Paula Prober Avatar
        Paula Prober

        So sorry to hear about your boy’s health issues. So important to get help. Thanks for sharing, Allison.

    2. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Good question, April. I shall think about it and you may see it pop up in a future post. My quick response is that you might learn a lot of what you need to know if you practice active listening. Some questions to ask yourself: How often is he super emotional? What about? Does he share his feelings with you most of the time or does he withdraw often? Is there tension in your home? Bullying at school? They say with boys, you also might want to talk with him when you’re driving in the car or playing a game so that he doesn’t have to look directly at you. Boys will share more when you’re not face to face. And, perhaps, some of my blog readers will respond to you. Thanks for sharing.

  13. Elise Avatar

    Ahhhhh, I remember being fifteen and those exact experiences like it they were yesterday. Mostly because my counsellor and I are just now, 15 years later, working through “It’s okay to have big emotions; the reactions of your parents to shut you down were not cool.” Here’s to learning so I don’t repeat those mistakes when I release my own spawn on the world.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Good for you, Elise, to be working on it now, before you have your own “spawn!” Thanks for sharing.

  14. Jens Lyon Avatar
    Jens Lyon

    For many kids, part of the problem is they KNOW they aren’t cute anymore. I think this is especially true for gifted girls– they are well aware that our society values them for their looks rather than for their minds or for their accomplishments. There are also those who view their achievements as a threat, who see a female valedictorian or scholarship winner as someone who has taken something away from some boy. (“How will our Timmy get into MIT if that girl wins the science prize?”)

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Interesting, Jen. I actually wasn’t speaking of “cute” in the physical sense but I hear what you’re saying. That can be a factor for sure. There’s so much to say when it comes to achievement and gifted females! Barbara Kerr is a great resource on that topic!

      1. Jens Lyon Avatar
        Jens Lyon

        I meant both physically cute as well as, “Oh, what a precocious child! How adorable!”

  15. Gail Post, Ph.D. Avatar
    Gail Post, Ph.D.

    Great description of how parents can be overwhelmed when their gifted child hits adolescence. I think this is particularly common for parents of girls, who sometimes get through early childhood years without the rough and tumble struggles typically experienced with boys. Very helpful reminder that parents need to support themselves to weather this challenge.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Yes, I’m wondering if there are particular differences between raising gifted boys and girls in childhood and adolescence. I don’t want to play in to stereotypes but I wonder. I’m going to write about the cases I’ve seen in my practice and see what my readers think. All that said, of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to giftedness!! Thanks for your feedback, Gail.

      1. Tanya Avatar

        I would love to hear whether you see patterns between boys and girls through the teen years. My sample size of two kids is too small to see anything. My son, my younger child, is so much more emotional than my daughter, and now that she’s 13, she’s going through a lot of emotional ups and downs. I’m starting to catalog my skills, wondering whether I could fit in at the circus, at the thought of my emotional son, now 10, becoming *more* emotional as a teen.

        I’ve become much more aware of the fact that I need to create my own support, do more self-care, to get through these rocky times. This year has been hard. We’re getting a few skills, tips to get us through the rockier times, and it seems to be helping, but it’s still not smooth sailing by any stretch of the imagination.

        1. Paula Prober Avatar
          Paula Prober

          I’m gathering my thoughts about the teen boys I’ve worked with and have heard about from parents. Certainly, self-care is essential no matter what! Thanks for sharing, Tanya.

  16. alchemistsheart Avatar

    I feel fortunate to remember these feelings from the inside out…which helps me stay calm when the challenges arise from the outside in. It amuses me to hear the “shares” my mother brings to my daughters. Last week she said “I remember when your mom came home from school and threw her books down on the floor saying ‘I hate school and I’m NOT doing my homework!’” Which I, of course, have no memory of, other than a keen awareness that adolescence was quite painful. I bless her for breathing through my tantrums and for keeping me humble by revealing these moments to my children. Thank you for the fundamental respect you bring to the process of being…and parenting…a rainforest mind.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I love that expression, Christy. You experience this from the “inside out” and from the “outside in.” Thanks for sharing your example.

    2. Anna Avatar

      YES! My teen reminded me just the other day that it was really important to her to hear of the scrapes and trials of MY childhood (and young adulthood.) I’ve already forgotten which story it was I told (something I think she hadn’t heard before) but I’m sure she hasn’t forgotten at all. Remembering those feelings, inside-out instead of outside-in keeps both of us feeling like I’m always on her “side,” even as we remind ourselves there really aren’t “sides” at all. I’m just trying to make her adolescence less painful – or at least less alone in it!

      1. Paula Prober Avatar
        Paula Prober

        Thanks, Anna.