UPDATE: I’m hearing that some folks are having trouble commenting on this post due to some issues with WordPress. Feel free to talk with me on my Facebook page. I’ve pinned the graphic for this post to the top of the page temporarily.
As of this writing, I’ve finished the rough first draft of my second non-fiction book, the one on bullying and gifted/twice-exceptional (“2E”) kids due next year from GHF Press. There’s even an informal working title–complete with an Oxford comma—to keep my momentum going!
Coincidentlally, given that today there’s a Gifted Homeschoolers Forum blog hop dedicated to “Parenting OEs, 2Es, and Everything in Between,” it seems like a good time to share some of my broad, general thoughts on the topic of bullying and gifted kids. And I’m going to do that by sharing with you some of the recurring themes that I keep encountering.
Bullying is a hot-button topic in our culture, but there’s no consensus on precisely what the word means. We also tend to overlook an important fact as a society: bullying is but one form of many types of relational aggression.
Working on this project, I’ve come to see interpersonal aggression as a continuum ranging at one end from the arguably necessary yet uncomfortable (example, positive peer pressure) to the obviously unjust, painful, cruel, and flat-out wrong. I don’t think we will come close to “stopping” the worst forms of bullying until we see it on that continuum–and begin to address relational aggression appropriately at each and every level. It seems plausible that the more that aggressive kids and adults get away with at one end of the continuum, the more empowered they feel to move on to grittier stuff.
This means we may all need to become more adept at managing conflict and improving interpersonal communication skills–including setting and holding boundaries.
Theme: Bullying is a willful abuse of power.
The power may be social (“mean girls“), familial (sibling bullying), administrative (teachers and principals picking on individual kids or groups of kids), or, in the case of violent bullying, physical. It can be more subtle, too, like within the context of individual conversations in which people (including the gifted themselves) use their powerful verbal skills to give someone else a good “shove.” (Again, there’s that continuum.)
Basically, bullying equals intentionally demeaning relational aggression plus power. Short of that, it’s relational aggression–and that alone can still be traumatic, frankly.
Theme: Bullying goes both ways within the gifted/2E community.
While I initially started my research wanting to explore the impact of relational aggression upon gifted/2E kids, I’ve opened up my thinking to include these individuals as bullies. There’s a good post here regarding signs that someone might become a bully.
That much-discussed “rage to master” information or area of interest typical of the gifted can take on a dark side socially; it can become a desire to learn how to manipulate others to grow or protect one’s power base. It can also come out of a legitimately good desire to help or protect someone but, due to revved up overexcitabilities and/or a series of miscommunications, things end up downright nasty.
Alas, this is as true of adults as it is for kids. Think about it. Have you ever had an obviously intelligent, over-excited, highly verbal grown up try to talk you out of something, insult your logic on a decision, shame someone via social media, or shout you down at a retail checkout or in an online forum in an attempt to undermine your resolve on an issue? Ever been a person that’s done something like that? (If I’m honest, I’d have to say “yes” to both questions, and I’m not proud of that fact.)
While I knew going into my research that individuals of all ages experience and engage in relational aggression, I’m increasingly interested in the intersection of bullying/relational aggression with the gifted lifetime. In my research for this book, a number of parents shared their own experiences of adult-to-adult aggression alongside stories about their kids. Given that I have a gifted elder in a nursing home, I find this sort of article (and this one) validates our personal experiences–a topic that I hope to expand upon further if not in this book then elsewhere.
Theme: Overexcitabilities (“OEs”) in gifted people may complicate the successful management of reactions to bullying and relational aggression.
Many children may, when stressed, feel their OEs “fire up” in response. This can impede the logical, systemic calming down required for someone to address bullying herself and gradually gain a lasting, powerful sense of resilience in the face of conflict. We need, as parents and educators, to help kids learn to manage OEs before a negative personal encounter. We owe it to them to help develop their social skills in preparation for every type of social encounter to build resilience and self-efficacy. We may also need to scaffold better socially those children who have OEs that are “off the charts,” managing their exposure to stressful or toxic situations or people and refrain from gaslighting them at the holidays.
This can have many positive effects, including minimizing the risk of exposure to or engagement in heavy-duty interpersonal conflict.
Also, as my friend Bob Yamtich thoughtfully pointed out to me recently, relational aggression can sometimes be thought of as “social feedback” and may be an opportunity to refine social skills. This is not to say that the victim “deserved” the action but rather that human communication and interpersonal skills can be clumsy, and we must allow for a certain amount of trial and error. I think this feedback can be embedded in “light” relational aggression and maybe even “light” bullying. (See? Again with the continuum.) These interactions are all potentially painful, and thus we owe it to our kids and ourselves to work on managing conflict and reactions better–so that lessons can be learned and progress made.
Theme: Homeschooling may address issues of academic need for gifted/2E kids, but it doesn’t rule out the possibility of bullying. Consequently, parents are wise to continuously work to improve social interactions–whatever the educational setting.
It’s not unusual for parents to seek to escape institutional relational aggression aimed at their gifted/2E, outlier kids by embracing homeschooling. However, some of the most uncomfortable stories that I’ve encountered–in real life and in my research–have taken place within the context of the homeschool community.
We can no longer dismiss the fact that bullying happens within play groups, co-ops, and even in an online forums promoted as refuges of “free-thinking” idealism related to home education. While most of the major books on the topic of bullying are chockablock with advice on helping kids navigate solutions in school settings, there is a dearth of information available on the topic of homeschooling and relational aggression* and what we can do about it. Perhaps that’s because it’s taboo to acknowledge such conflict exists because we fear losing social connections if one dares to “speak truth to power” in one’s homeschool co-op. Moreover, given the general public misperception that all homeschool children are at a disadvantage when it comes to “socialization,” as a community we may be prone to defensiveness.
The solution, I think, is to nurture ourselves–children and adults–to manage conflict and our reactions to it to minimize negative relational aggression, including various forms of bullying.
Is that easier said than done? You bet. Yet it’s a lesson that must be taught no matter where one educates her/his children.
* * *
As I stated at the start of this post, I’ve just finished my manuscript’s first draft, so there’s much more that I’ve learned or discovered that hasn’t been addressed here–including various strategies I’ve picked up from researchers, counselors, coaches and others that parents can use to manage the issues to which the themes outlined here point.
Note, too, I’m still collecting real-life stories related to my topic. If you wish to share yours, you may send them to me via my original online survey. (Individuals who feel the survey doesn’t prompt questions directly relevant to their experiences–and who still want to be heard, may contact me here. )
Pamela Price is a journalist, author, and homeschool parent. Her first book, How to Work and Homeschool, debuted in 2013. Her second book, also from GHF Press, is due in 2015. You can can find her on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.
*The exception is, of course, many of the recent news stories about adults who were homeschooled primarily for faith-based reasons who experienced brutal words and actions from adults and now want harsher restrictions placed on homeschooling as a result. That matter is largely beyond the scope of my research at this time.