Posted September 13, 2013 by Jim Barteck in Gifted

Gifted Snowflake Syndrome

Gifted Snowflake Syndrome
Gifted Snowflake Syndrome

This morning as I sat down with my computer, I found myself struggling with a minor case of writer’s block. So, seeking inspiration, I put it aside and embarked upon my daily cruise around the internet to catch up on the latest news and views. As I often do, I checked out the latest Facebook postings for The Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page. While perusing the questions often posted there, I ran across another example of what I call the “Gifted Snowflake Syndrome.”

From seeing the sheer volume of people who ask similar questions and from reading the responses they get, it has become apparent that Gifted Snowflake Syndrome (GSS) is an all too common phenomenon amongst parents of gifted children. So what is GSS anyway? Gifted Snowflake Syndrome is the persistent belief that every desire and idiosyncracy of a gifted child must be indulged by his/her parent(s).

To wit, the specific question that triggered this article was from a mother whose son is giving her attitude and has already received four F’s in three classes because he is simply not doing his homework and turning in his assignments. She, of course, had the usual litany of excuses about him not being challenged and about him being bored in his classes. She did admit, however, that this isn’t a new problem: his failure to apply himself during the last school year is the direct cause of him not being enrolled in more academically challenging classes this year.

I don’t mean to single her, or her son, out for reprobation though. Her “dilemma” was the immediate inspiration for this article, but she is far from alone. I’ve seen analogous questions both in Hoagies’ posts and on other forums. Just reading the responses and seeing the respondents’ almost universal inability to recognize or address the core problem is an illustration of just how many parents may be similarly affected.

Before going on, I should explain the name, Gifted Snowflake Syndrome. There is an anonymously sourced quote which says:

A child is a snowflake, each one unique, each one special, each one a gift from God.

As a father, I can confirm that is most certainly true. I’m sure that you would likely agree as well. However, there is a subset of parents who take that basic concept entirely too far. They emphatically insist that rules and expectations which apply to everyone else simply must be thrown out the window when it comes to their precious “snowflake.” After all, your child may be unique, but you simply wouldn’t understand their child’s uniqueness. Their child has a very special uniqueness which is so uniquely unique that a unique set of rules and a unique set of expectations must be created for the sole purpose of accommodating the uniquely unique uniqueness of their unique child. (Did I mention that they were unique yet? Because you really should know that they are. Unique, that is.)

This is an issue which is far from limited to the parents of gifted children. As anyone whose job involves working with children and their parents will tell you: it crosses racial, economic, intellectual, social and even cultural boundaries. So what makes it different for the parents of gifted children?

The problem for many parents of gifted children is that their children do have an undeniable and often defining characteristic which is indeed far outside the norm: namely, their child’s intellectual capacity. After all, they reason to themselves, if a child of average intellect and ability is unique, then how much more unique must a child be whose intellect is at least two standard deviations above average? That’s got to be worth a little something extra in the “uniqueness” department, right? Right?

Yes. Gifted children present an entirely different set of challenges than a child of more average intellectual ability. Their educational track is far more likely to be out of the ordinary. Their thirst for new knowledge and ability to consume, process and make sense out of new data will often set them apart from their same-age peers. So, in some sense, it’s not entirely surprising that the parents of gifted children might be more susceptible to a “snowflake syndrome” than might be parents of children who tend more toward the norm.  Hence the name: “Gifted Snowflake Syndrome” (GSS).

But here is the part that GSS parents are missing: gifted children are still children, and the parents of gifted children are still parents. Just because a child may seemingly be capable of reasoning like an adult, it doesn’t magically make them an adult. They are still children who cannot be expected to possess the maturity or capacity to make appropriate decisions for themselves and their well-being – including such seemingly mundane ones like whether or not they’re obligated to turn in their homework. There are no “giftedness exceptions” to the age limit for driving a vehicle or drinking alcoholic beverages for gifted children. There’s a reason for that. It takes time to gather the life experience and grow into the necessary maturity required to handle the incredible responsibility of getting behind the wheel of a several-thousand pound motor vehicle and operate it at highway speeds, and being gifted isn’t some kind of “Get Out of Adolescence Free” card.

Parents still have the same responsibility to properly raise a gifted child that they would have with any other child. That means implementing a system of rewards and consequences to help shape the child into the adult that they will one day become. That means teaching them independence and critical thinking skills, but it also means setting firm and fair boundaries for their behavior along the way. It means teaching them how to appropriately deal with both success and adversity. It means teaching them how to have healthy and fulfilling relationships with others. It means a whole host of things, regardless of the intellectual capacity of the child.

So, with all of that as background, let’s get back to the mother’s query that prompted this article. It is clear that this mother is a prime example of Gifted Snowflake Syndrome. This can be verified simply by taking giftedness out of the equation. If a child of any other ability level was not doing his work and repeatedly failed to turn in his assignments, would you: a) immediately set up a system of rewards and consequences to ensure that he does so from now on, or b) write to an online forum asking “what kind of help he needs” after letting it drag on for over a year as this mother did? (If you answered “b,” then you might want to bookmark and re-read this article over and over until the message sinks in.)

It’s obvious to any non-GSS sufferer that the “help” this child needs is for his mother to stop coddling and making excuses for him. It’s long past time for his parent(s) to take control of the situation, to lay down some rules about getting schoolwork done in a timely manner and then to enforce the consequences if he fails to do so. If that had been done last year, he wouldn’t be in this situation now. However, the failure to enforce proper discipline has now cost that child at least one – if not two or more – years of ability-appropriate academic progress.

Gifted Snowflake Syndrome Stifles Potential

Gifted Snowflake Syndrome Stifles Potential

This is the great irony of Gifted Snowflake Syndrome. In seeking to assert a “uniqueness exception” to every rule and expectation, these parents are actually harming rather than helping their children. By refusing to hold their children accountable for their actions and failing to instill a sense of self-discipline, these parents are reducing the likelihood that the child will ever fully realize their potential as adults.

The nice thing about GSS is that it’s not incurable. There are no medicines to treat it, but there is a simple fix: treat your children as if they were not gifted. Every child should be expected to obey basic rules, to put forth their best effort and to be held accountable when they do not. Every child should be encouraged to develop whatever talents and gifts they possess, no matter how seemingly large or small they may be. At their core, gifted children are no different from every other child on this planet, and the sooner GSS parents realize that the better off their children will be.

Jim Barteck