Parenting is a challenging journey — one that can become even more interesting when you’re raising a gifted child. Gifted children often possess unique traits and behaviors that require special attention and guidance. Nearly a decade ago, parents were put on high alert when several studies suggested that high-performing teens are more likely than their lower-achieving peers to drink alcohol. While further research is needed to prove the validity of these claims, there are a few reasons why gifted teenagers could be more at risk of alcohol misuse.
Common Reasons Teenagers Drink Alcohol, and How These Pressures Target Gifted Teens
Even though the most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) indicates that alcohol use by adolescents ages 12 to 17 has declined by more than 50% since 2002, it isn’t unusual for any teen — gifted or not — to experiment with underage drinking. According to the 2023 State of Underage Drinking in North Carolina survey, nearly 65% of students admit to trying alcohol during their middle school years.
So, even though the numbers show teen alcohol use is declining, we still have more work to do to make sure all teens understand the dangers of underage drinking. Many of the most common reasons teenagers drink alcohol uniquely impact gifted teens:
Many teens feel they have to drink alcohol to fit in with a particular group of classmates or friends. This negative peer pressure can be especially intense for gifted teenagers. Although they can breeze through difficult assignments and ace exams, their academic prowess can sometimes leave them feeling isolated from their peers. Some engage in risky behaviors (such as underage drinking) to prove they’re just like everyone else.
Other gifted teens may be so advanced intellectually that they’re unable to relate to people their own age. Instead, they may gravitate towards older teens and young adults they meet while taking advanced classes, exploring special interests, gaming online, etc. Unfortunately, hanging out with older friends sometimes leads to more exposure to alcohol and more pressure to drink alcohol.
Teenagers are naturally curious about the adult world. After all, they’re starting to take on more responsibilities at home and school and getting some small tastes of independence. Many become curious about adult privileges and want to try alcohol.
Gifted teens are no different. In fact, research shows that smarter people are especially curious about the world around them. While open-mindedness is a desirable trait in general, it may lead gifted teens to question what their parents and teachers tell them about the dangers of underage drinking. They may be determined to experiment with alcohol for themselves.
With all their studies, activities, and devices, teenagers still get bored, and that’s especially true for gifted teens. Academically advanced students may feel unchallenged by school and uninterested in many of the activities their classmates enjoy. As they explore ways to relieve their boredom, some may try alcohol or other substances.
Stress affects everyone from time to time, but teens often haven’t learned how to handle it. Sometimes, they believe alcohol will help them feel relaxed or less anxious. Many gifted teenagers are prone to stress because they feel pressure to perform their best all the time. Their perfectionism can lead to anxiety or depression, which, in turn, can cause them to misuse alcohol as a coping mechanism.
What Parents Should Understand About Teenage Alcohol Abuse or Misuse
Alcohol is the most commonly used substance among young people; however, parents have the ability to influence their children’s relationship with it. Your teen needs you to be a parent and set boundaries. Consider these important points:
- All teens, including gifted ones, are at risk of misusing alcohol. Gifted teens may be more mature and stronger-willed than many of their peers, but they’re still susceptible to the same challenges of adolescence.
- They may not know the facts about underage drinking. Teenagers are exposed to a lot of misinformation about alcohol from friends, social media, movies, and more. It’s up to you to make sure your child understands just how dangerous alcohol can be to their developing mind and body.
- Setting boundaries keeps them safe. Once you’ve shared the facts about alcohol with your teen, be clear about your expectations. If they break your rules, it’s important to follow through with appropriate punishment for teenage drinking.
Start the Conversation
It’s easy to think of gifted teenagers as equals when they’re able to understand concepts that even some adults may struggle to comprehend, but the truth is they’re still developing physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially. Make sure underage drinking doesn’t stifle their development and prevent them from reaching their full potential.
Find time to begin an open dialogue with them about alcohol. Start the Conversation today!