High IQ Teen Behavior Problems

By Ashley Miller
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Teens with high IQs often display troubling behaviors. You might assume that the smarter a child is, the more he'll understand the importance of listening to parents or behaving in socially acceptable ways. But in some cases, being intellectually gifted can increase a teen's susceptibility to behavioral problems or psychological and adjustment disorders, according to a 1999 article in the "Roeper Review," as reported on the website for the Davidson Institute for Talent Development.

Risk Factors

In their book, "High IQ Kids," Kiesa Kay and fellow editors note that a high IQ often comes with an increased vulnerability several behavioral and emotional issues. High IQ teens might have an increased risk for developing behavioral problems because of certain social, intellectual or familial factors. Risk factors can include increased sensitivity, idealism, tendencies toward perfectionism, bullying, stress, social and intellectual isolation from their peer groups or a lack of family support. Teens whose intellectual abilities go unnoticed or unidentified frequently experience boredom in their classes or suffer from having to plod through curriculum that isn't challenging, resulting in frustration and stress.


Depending on their specific circumstances, high IQ teens might display a range of troubling behaviors. They might engage in self-destructive behaviors such as cutting, delinquent behavior such as skipping class or running away from home, or disruptive behavior such as interrupting classmates or teachers during class discussions. According to Jean Sunde Peterson in an article for the fall 2009 issue of the "Gifted Child Quarterly," some gifted children use illegal substances to alleviate stress, or drop out of school.

Behavioral Disorders and Giftedness

Many gifted teens are misdiagnosed with behavioral disorders, especially when their intellectual abilities go unnoticed. For example, a similarity exists between the behaviors of high IQ children and those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. ADHD and giftedness can both result in a lack of attention, especially when your teen is faced with tasks that she finds boring, under-stimulating or irrelevant. Oppositional-defiant disorder is another commonly misdiagnosed behavioral disorder in gifted children and teens. This disorder often manifests as power struggles with parents and other authority figures. However, gifted teens might display these behaviors because of their sensitivity, intensity, idealism and generally being misunderstood, according to the book "Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults," reported at the website for the group Support Emotional Needs of the Gifted.

Help for Parents

Addressing your teen's behaviors is the first step toward reducing or preventing the development of additional or more serious problems. If your teen engages in destructive or self-harming behaviors, schedule an immediate psychiatric evaluation. Do not put off seeking help in such circumstances -- cutting or other self-harming behaviors are a cry for help. In less severe circumstances, you might wish to discuss your concerns with your child's teachers or school social worker or psychologist. In addition, you should consult a qualified mental health professional who has experience working with gifted and talented children and teens. Therapy and other interventions can be helpful in addressing behavior problems in high IQ teens.

About the Author

Ashley Miller is a licensed social worker, psychotherapist, certified Reiki practitioner, yoga enthusiast and aromatherapist. She has also worked as an employee assistance program counselor and a substance-abuse professional. Miller holds a Master of Social Work and has extensive training in mental health diagnosis, as well as child and adolescent psychotherapy. She also has a bachelor's degree in music.