Pretty much all parents think that their kids are special in one way or another — and many believe that their kid is gifted, too, even if they might not technically be gifted. At the same time, many parents grew up with labels like “gifted” and “special” that complicated their lives (and perhaps landed them in therapy). When it comes to our kids, should we tell them they’re gifted? Or should we go out of our way to avoid the loaded term? Or… as one dad did, do we truly believe that our high-achieving children are just hard workers with no special abilities?
This week on the Am I The A**hole subreddit, a dad asked a jury of his online peers if he was too harsh on his daughter when he told her that he doesn’t think she’s gifted — even though she’s headed off to college several years early.
Here’s what went down: a man and his wife are both electrical engineers with two bright kids, a 15-year-old daughter and a 17-year-old son. Both are headed off to college in a few weeks at the same time, since his daughter finished high school early. Their daughter will study physics and computer science while their son isn’t sure of his major yet.
“My daughter is smart and hardworking and is attending at an earlier age than usual,” he explains. “She was in a school program for gifted kids. We were having a conversation at dinner the other day and my wife mentioned how proud she was of our daughter and how lucky we were to have gifted children going to good university programs and how not many people can do what our daughter did.”
That’s when he spoke (when he truly didn’t have to speak).
“I was also very happy but I said that while (daughter) is really hardworking and smart, I would not say that she is actually gifted and others can’t do it if they put in the same amount of work,” he said. “Her school does a lot to try to admit girls into her program, and my wife helped teach her advanced college level math and physics from an earlier age, she didn’t naturally pick it up on her own. If anything being a younger applicant with the same credentials probably helped her stand out more for the admissions committee.”
Way to downplay and explain away all of her achievements and hard work, dad!
“I have seen how people can ruin their lives over thinking they are ‘gifted’ and it going to their head so I just wanted to caution her about that,” he explained. “Both my wife and daughter are upset at me now, my wife thinks I was trying to put her down which is not true and says she is gifted, while my daughter actually agrees with me but says I should not have said it as she already knows.”
Down in the comments, readers let him have it for his actions toward his younger kid.
“[You’re the a**hole]. Putting your daughter down served no positive purpose. Discouraging a young teen like that can have serious detrimental effects. Even if she isn’t actually gifted, you were the asshole,” one popular reply reads. “That being said, she is gifted. Not every 15 year old can go to a university to study physics. Not only is she gifted academically, she is gifted with drive and determination. Not everyone has that. And you tried to put her down.”
“Did it feel good to say that about your daughter? Does it feel good to let her know that she is not as smart or unique as other people, that like you, she is just ‘average?’ Does it feel good to correct your wife about her views regarding said daughter, and making her feel bad about her opinion,” another asks. “And there are not enough ways that I could call an average man an a**hole for what he did. It must really damage your pride to have two exceptional women achieving more than you.”
Many people in the comments, especially women who work in STEM, pointed out what seems to be an underlying sexism in the post.
“There is absolutely no rational or useful or helpful reason to say something like this. The only purpose was to demean your daughter, who is most assuredly gifted. You also spent an interesting amount of time in your post attempting to explain how her accomplishments and abilities really aren’t that special,” one female scientist wrote. “You can make all the claims you want to about how proud of her you supposedly are. I see right through you. I spent my career as a woman in the sciences and I’ve been around countless guys like you who are quick to praise their little female ‘worker bees’ as long as they know their place, but who are incapable of acknowledging when a woman is genuinely exceptional. It’s especially heartbreaking that you have managed to erode her awareness of her own gifts to the point where she ‘actually agrees’ with you that she is ‘just’ a hard worker and not really gifted. You are toxic and I know you’ll reject this reality, but I’ll say it anyway. You’re a misogynist.”
And then this one person just really nailed the whole thing.
“Jesus f*cking Christ, she is FIFTEEN and is going to college,” they write. “You should be shouting her praises to everyone you meet. You should be so proud of her and instead you just try to knock her down. What’s the purpose of that? How did that serve you as a father?”
Some gifted programs and calling kids gifted comes with some problems and warnings, for sure. But if your daughter is clearly excelling in a way that makes her stand out from the crowd, it’s definitely a moment to share how proud you are, not a moment to take her down a peg. But it probably won’t be the first misogynistic comment she’ll hear during what sounds like will be a fantastic future career.