Do you feel like you’ve failed to live up to your intellectual potential? That you’re a disappointment to your family members and friends? That no matter how hard you try, you’ll never be able to return to the days in which you were happy and successful? Then you may feel welcome on Reddit’s hottest new community: r/aftergifted!
The subreddit of dejected and lonely formerly “gifted” kids is chocked full of memes and dark humor about not living up to your potential.
What’s underneath all of these seemingly humorous posts, however, is a concerning trend of young people becoming increasingly depressed, lonely and hopeless. In fact, rates of depression, suicide and loneliness have skyrocketed amongst teenagers and young adults. It’s not surprising that formerly gifted individuals would feel the worse effects of this, seeing as depressive tendencies are likelier to be displayed among them.
The story of posters on the subreddit fits pretty well with this narrative: gifted kids in elementary school go on to face harder material and high expectations, and crack under the pressure. They start failing their classes and lose the security of thinking they are gifted that they felt they had. And because many of them were taught that intelligence was their defining characteristic, they fall victim to depression and loneliness.
For instance, wealthy students, often the largest target of high expectations, experience a larger rate of drug use than poorer students. Hard-working students at highly-rated high schools also experience much higher rates of depression and anxiety than their peers.
When the smartest kids in the room start to lose that identity, they’re left with nothing. Most of us know at least a few people this description applies to; and it’s always disheartening. Even I’ve felt that I’ve “failed to live up to my potential” whenever I make a mistake, and I’d be lying if I said that I couldn’t relate to at least a few of the posts on the subreddit. A sense that you’ve disappointed the people who’ve placed faith in you can be disheartening at best, and life-ruining at worst.
Our hallways are filled with people alienated by the expectations they failed to live up to. Discouraged by what they deem to be irredeemably large missteps and errors, many of my peers have simply given up on school work. The curse of the gifted child is something that affects every single one of us.
We need to do a better job of providing support for people who feel that their sense of purpose stems from how “intelligent” they are. Encouraging children to have more realistic understandings of their skills and talents, without classifying them based on an IQ test, is at least a step towards this goal. Simply shifting to a growth-based mindset, and complimenting a child’s effort over their natural abilities can both ensure that they work hard and allow them to derive their value from something they can control.
While r/aftergifted may just be one small subreddit, the larger themes of hopelessness and loneliness among formerly gifted kids is a larger one. it’s a problem that all of us need to have a hand in fixing.