By Marianne Kuzujanakis.
There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories. —Ursula K. Le Guin
The approach of summer traditionally means many things, such as more leisure time to read, watch films, and spend time with family.
We’ve all read books or watched films and television programs that profoundly spoke to us. The power of story offers intangible gifts that go far beyond setting, characters and plot. Story importantly acts as a mirror to our own selves, selves that are sometimes readily recognized, sometimes not. Through our imaginations, we are transported to other worlds on paper or screen where we become more than simple spectators, and more aligned and emotionally invested with the actual struggles, hopes, and outcome of the story arc.
The development of self-identity is tied into shared personal life experiences, and some of those shared experiences come also from the experience of well-made stories. We have all read picture books to our young children that depict values we support. We all encourage our older children to read more complex books and watch films that express ideals in which we believe. Children too seek out their own stories and films and television programs for both entertainment and self-validation and self-identity. Gifted children, already keenly aware of many of their own feelings, empathic to the feelings of others, and frequently exquisitely emotionally sensitive as a result of Dabrowski’s overexcitabilities, cautiously traverse a sometimes difficult landscape in seeking out stories that resonate in their hearts and minds.
The difficulties are complex. Many gifted children read at a very early age, and even if some do not, gifted children early on may fully comprehend the nuances of language and context, while loving the beauty in the written and spoken word at a level well beyond their age-peers. Finding age- and sensitivity-appropriate books and films and programs is an ongoing struggle for parents who themselves are also likely to have similar sensitivities.
Parents and teachers may both feel confused when a gifted child either refuses to read (or watch) a particular book (or program) that age-peers rave about. Perhaps unrecognized by adults is that the gifted child may experience fear, sadness, or horror at events that occur in the story, and as a result may be less likely to read (or watch) anything for a time after that. These events underscore to a gifted child their self-belief that they are different or somehow flawed.
Yet the importance of books and film for gifted children (and adults) cannot be emphasized enough. Through the use of appropriate books and film, gifted individuals satisfy a hunger for language and human connections that they may not experience in regular intervals in real life. Gifted individuals often feel the loneliness of being different and finding inner strength through the themes of story that may have characters similar to themselves validates that it’s okay to be gifted, and in fact that it’s way cool to be gifted, despite contradictory feelings they may sense from society.
Stories don’t just entertain. Stories empower. Story is a crucial component in serving the social and emotional needs of gifted individuals. At the end of this article are important links to further reading on this subject, as well as links to Web sites that offer synopses of books and film for parents to use when choosing appropriate materials for their highly sensitive gifted children.
This topic is especially important to me as I continue my ongoing journey of parenting a gifted and creative child–now a teen–who remains deeply sensitive to story. Besides reading a variety of wonderful books together, viewing the series Star Trek is but one of our cherished shared family activities. The science is a definite draw, but as I now re-watch Star Trek The Next Generation, I’m continually impressed by what I see as character traits and conflicts that are also the same as those experienced in depth by gifted individuals. Picard’s leadership yet humbleness and willingness to let others lead, Data’s android logic yet deep humanity, Worf’s adherence to justice, honor and tradition yet difficulty with controlling anger and intense feelings, Wesley’s precocious knowledge yet developing maturity (and sometimes immaturity), Riker’s ambition and self-assuredness yet deep fear of moving his career forward, and Deanna’s empathy for others to the point of physical pain while sometimes being blind to her own needs. What too of La Forge who, while limited by his visual apparatus to not see the world exactly as others do, sees that which ordinary people cannot ever hope to see. And then there’s troublesome Q, the Borg, poignantly lonely Tin Man (Gomtuu), and so many others. Problem solving, risk-taking, ethical behavior, teamwork, high ideals, intelligence, curiosity, progress, and the acceptance of diversity all shape not just the series, but also our best-loved books and films.
Characters and story that help gifted individuals recognize and accept self, and develop coping skills while learning to conquer fears, serve not just the gifted individuals but also all of humanity. Read to your gifted children of all ages. Watch film and programs with your gifted children. Let them choose their books and films with your assistance until they can choose them themselves. Try to understand and acknowledge that the experience of story is not just entertainment, but a life-saving transfusion of hope, self-awareness, and human connectedness. Be available when gifted children wish to share in these activities and discuss how books and film affect their lives. Our gifted children can then build the scaffolding of their own unique real-life story atop a firm and safe foundation of powerful universal stories.
In the memorable words of Captain Jean-Luc Picard: “Make it so…ENGAGE.”