Is It Normal for Gifted Teens to Underperform in School?

By Maggie McCormick
Some gifted teens sleep through class because they're bored.
Some gifted teens sleep through class because they're bored.

When your child received the "gifted" designation, you might have thought it would be smooth sailing from there. After all, gifted children have higher intelligence, so they should do better in school. Unfortunately, that's not always the case. It's not uncommon for a gifted teen to underperform in school. You might have to work hard to get her on the right track.

Possible Reasons for Underachievement

Gifted teens underperform for a variety of reasons. By this age, many have recognized that a social stigma can be attached to displays of intelligence. By downplaying their abilities -- even to the point of underachieving -- they are able to fit in better socially. Some teens are bored by the activities in class, according to New Haven, a school for girls. They might already know the material or not see the point in completing activities they feel are a waste of time.

Struggling Academically

In high school, course work starts to get more difficult. A gifted teen might lack study skills because earlier school work always came easily. Now that he has to do practice problems or homework assignments, he's finding himself at a loss. Gifted teens aren't gifted in all areas. A teen who's mathematically gifted might struggle in a language or history class, while a talented writer might struggle with mathematical concepts. "Gifted" means that the teen has a brain that works differently from other students. It doesn't mean that he'll do everything right.

Stealth Dyslexia

Gifted teens might suffer from learning disabilities. According to an article on the website for the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, gifted children can sometimes hide learning disabilities through their higher intelligence. For example, the teen might have sailed through to this point by listening to a teacher reading or discussing a book, but now struggles because he has to read the books himself. If you suspect that this is the problem with your child, get him tested so that he can receive the educational support he needs.


In many cases, the problems of underachievement in gifted teens can be solved by differentiated education. Unfortunately, with school budgets being what they are, specialized programs don't always exist or are simply inadequate. If you're concerned about your child's performance, check with the school to see whether other resources are available. Other schools in your district might have better opportunities for her, so you might consider a transfer. Homeschooling might also be an option if you think your teen would be more motivated while studying at the right level.

About the Author

Maggie McCormick is a freelance writer. She lived in Japan for three years teaching preschool to young children and currently lives in Honolulu with her family. She received a B.A. in women's studies from Wellesley College.