There is a good deal of research suggesting that gifted children and adolescents are faced with stressors related to being gifted that interfere with their social development and that prevent them from developing some of the skills necessary to function normally socially and emotionally. Several reasons for these deficits in social skills have been identified. Gifted children and adolescents may feel isolation because of being different from their peers. Often they can not find peers who have similar interests which may result in frustration or boredom. Also, gifted children may engage in social comparisons earlier than same aged counterparts and can even develop anxiety about going to school and having to hide their abilities (Harrison, 2004). In addition, some gifted children and adolescents must cope with perfectionistic tendencies which cause them to avoid risk taking activities in which failure is possible (Reis & Renzulli, 2004). As a result, these perfectionistic tendencies can lead to social withdrawal. Perfectionism has also been correlated to maladjustment, including depression, anxiety, low self-confidence, and social phobias (Speirs-Neumeister, 2004). Finally, gifted children and adolescents often experience heightened sensitivity to the ways that other’s affect them which can overwhelm them and lead them to withdraw from social situations (Hebert & Speirs Neumeister, 2002).
Not all studies looking at the social development of gifted children and adolescents have revealed deficits, however. Some have found that they develop socially and emotionally in ways similar to their non-gifted counterparts, while others have found gifted children to be even better socially adjusted than their typical peers. This paper discusses developmental theories related to social development, reviews current research on the social development of gifted children and adolescents, and discusses the importance of the implications of this research for the education of the gifted in order for them to achieve the most positive outcomes possible. Related Developmental Theories
Albert Bandura’s social cognitive theory posits that cognition plays an important role in one’s capability to construct reality, self-regulate, and perform behaviors. In this theory, self-reflection allows people to make sense of their experiences, to engage in self-evaluation and to alter their thinking and behavior accordingly. Central to social cognitive theory is the concept of self-efficacy. Bandura believes that one’s judgments about their capabilities play a role in what people choose to do and also explains why people’s behaviors are sometimes disjointed from their actual capabilities (Pajares & Schunk, 2001). It is possible to look at the social development of the gifted in the context of social cognitive theory. Based on the concept of self-efficacy, one who is confident in their social skills anticipates successful social encounters, while those who doubt their social skills envision rejection before they even establish social contact. A person who lacks confidence in their social skills will shy away from social encounters and as a result will never provide themselves with the chance to have positive social interactions. This may be particularly true of gifted children with perfectionist tendencies who tend to select tasks where they feel competent and shy away from those where they expect failure.
Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development can also be used to look at the social development of gifted children and adolescents. Erikson posits that people progress through eight stages during their lifetime. In each stage an individual must resolve a crisis before moving on to develop further without carrying forward issues tied to previous stages. The third and forth stages are particularly important when looking at the social development of gifted children and adolescents. In order to...