Monday, September 12, 2011

What Do You Think?: Teasing The Smart Kid.

Lidia just entered 9th grade and has always done well in school, enjoys reading, and likes to think about things in new ways. People tend to assume she is older than she is and she often feels as though she is not “on the same page” as her friends. Her school smarts and unique way of thinking make her a target for teasing, even from her own friends. A few of her classmates call her names like stupid, weird, and spacey, and ridicule her good grades. She laughs it off but secretly wonders if she really is weird or crazy and wants nothing more than to be accepted and liked by her classmates. The teasing makes her feel isolated, angry, and recently has caused her grades to slip from A’s to C’s. She has also started making older friends and engaging in risky behaviors with alcohol and boys because she is trying to fit in and be “cool.”

Questions for Discussion:
1. If Lidia doesn’t get some help what do you think could happen to her?
2. Why do the other kids tease her so much, and have you ever teased someone for those reasons?
3. Have you ever been the kid being teased and how did it make you feel? What did it make you want to do?
4. If you were Lidia what could you do to make the situation better? How would the kids teasing her react to each option you come up with?

**Smart, or “gifted,” youth are often teased by classmates because they are perceived as different. A 2006 study of almost 500 gifted 8th grade students showed that 67% had experienced teasing or bullying from their peers, and many think its closer to 90%!

**Gifted youth tend to be more sensitive to others and can experience intense reactions to teasing and bullying. Potential consequences are emotional withdrawal, depression, intense anger, or even violence against self or others. Many of the kids involved in school shootings were gifted children who were reportedly teased and bullied regularly.

**Most gifted youth that are teased don’t tell anyone or ask for help because they think it reflects poorly on them, are ashamed they can do nothing to stop it, and/or think telling an adult is “tattling”. Common symptoms of being teased are lowered academic achievement, trouble sleeping or eating (especially during the school week), unexplained aversion to school/ditching, headaches and stomach aches before and during school, and emotional flatness.

**Psychological studies indicate that victims of teasing/bullying might choose to partake in more risky behaviors (drinking, smoking, drug use, unprotected sex) than those who have not been victimized, may become more delinquent in later stages, and could possibly be diagnosed with future psychological problems such as ADHD and anxiety disorders.

What Can Mentors do to Help Prevent This?:
**The most important thing is to be understanding and empathetic, don’t try to minimize their pain by telling them that lots of kids get teased or that they should just stand up for themselves, these strategies are proven to make victims feel even more powerless and inadequate. Be supportive, sympathetic, and reassure them that they are not weird, stupid etc. and that telling an adult is not shameful or tattling. If they are being teased because they are gifted explain to them what their being gifted means and that it is nothing to be ashamed of. Smart children often feel different than their peers but don’t know why, so understanding that can be a big relief.

**Try using this problem solving model created for kids who are being teased or bullied.
1. Clarify the problem with your mentee (who, where, when, and why).
2. Brainstorm other ways your mentee could respond the next time the situation arises:
a. postpone judgment on suggested responses: their answers can be inappropriate, vindictive, silly etc; just let them explore and don’t be afraid to joke around a little bit!
b. While you let them get out emotions and be silly in this exercise, be sure to include appropriate responses: walk away, be assertive, go for help etc.
3. Think through the consequences of each suggestion on the list and pick one to try.
4. Make a plan, role play to practice, and have them try it out.
5. Evaluate what happened, and try another option if necessary.

**Some successful responses you can try with them are:
1. Stay calm and ignore the bully. Feign disinterest or boredom (maybe yawn) and become interested in some other activity.
2. Be assertive and tell the bully/s how you feel without being aggressive and escalating the situation. Eg. Try to get the bully/s alone and say something like, “It really hurts my feelings when you say xyz about me and I would appreciate it if you would stop.”
3. If the bully won’t stop, or they threaten or scare your mentee tell them to seek adult help immediately. Come up with several safe people they can go to in various situations and places (school, home, after school program etc) and talk to those people about the situation so they are ready and willing to help. Of course it’s best if your mentee can deal with the bully themselves but if their physical or emotional safety is in jeopardy they need to be able to find help. Threatening someone is a crime and should be treated as such.

**If you are teaching them how to be assertive practice these tactics:
1. Look people in the eye
2. Stand up straight, with feet slightly apart
3. Keep your hands in your pockets
4. Move closer to the person rather than backing off as you talk
5. Speak loudly enough and use a firm and determined voice

**Check out these links, and do your own internet research with your mentee, for more information on gifted children, bullying, and other helpful coping strategies.

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