Jennifer Kolari: 13 To Life


A Gifted Child's Kryptonite

Hard Work-Intolerant

Whoever decided to call gifted kids “gifted kids” either had a perverse sense of humour or a humorous sense of perversity.

My eighteen year-old son Lazyboy is gifted. It is as if he possesses super powers. Lazyboy, able to memorize entire textbooks after just one reading; Lazyboy, able to solve four-page chemistry questions without lifting a pencil; Lazyboy, able to play perfect soulful guitar after three months of self-teaching. Wow, you’re thinking. But not so fast. Lazyboy has his own kryptonite, which also happens to be my greatest worry for him: an allergy to hard work.

While my son is wonderfully sweet and engaging, he is also hyper-sensitive, anxious and overwhelmed by challenging situations. Since most academics come easily to him, Lazyboy treats homework and studying as pesky irritants to his otherwise laid-back lifestyle. In his smart yet slothful brain, Lazyboy thinks, "why do this math assignment when I already know the answers?"

Why study for a test when the facts are already ensconced in his brain, as easy to access as a bag of chips from the kitchen cupboard? Oh, and Lazyboy likes his chips; after all, they’re the perfect complement to an afternoon of gaming.

This past fall, with university applications brewing, I implored Lazyboy to work hard. “It’s all good, Mom,” he told me, but it wasn’t.

Six weeks into the semester, Lazyboy’s strategy of “less is more” revealed its flaw. He was failing math and chemistry, not because he didn’t know it, but because he hadn’t done any homework and had never shown what he knew on paper or in class.  His reaction to this news was to hurl himself and scream that he would end up homeless. Did I mention that sometimes gifted kids are over-dramatic?

I want my son to understand that hard work pays off. When you work, your life works. When you sit on your hands or use them to shove candy into your mouth, ultimately the world doesn’t taste so sweet. We all need opposites in our lives—such as work and play—so that we can experience the difference.

My husband and I decided to implement some serious behaviour therapy. We told Lazyboy that he would receive all the love he could handle and also be entitled to food and shelter. Beyond that, privileges such as driving the car, playing video games, and receiving allowance would be suspended if he did not apply himself to his school work. We were careful to point out that marks were not important and that if we saw him working hard and trying, we would celebrate the effort regardless of the grade.  It was extremely “noisy” in our house after this proclamation. 

Usually even-tempered, Lazyboy raged against the unfairness of the new rules. We stayed neutral and reminded him that we loved him too much to miss out on this important life lesson and eventually, after a couple of weeks, our son stopped complaining and started working. His level of effort and his marks shot up like sunflowers in summer.

Lazyboy recently received early acceptance into three of his chosen universities, one with a substantial scholarship. Most parents would be thrilled for their child, but our reaction was bittersweet. The most ironic postscript to this tale is that with the acceptances came letters congratulating Lazyboy on his “outstanding grades that are clearly the result of many years of diligence and effort!”

Lazyboy and I both laughed out loud at the irony of this. As parents, we are happier when Pixie Girl receives a 72% in English than when Lazyboy gets a 90%. She is all about effort—he is just rocking his “gift.”

I am hopeful that as he matures, my son will learn to try more often and experience the joy and satisfaction that hard work can bring. In the meantime, I remain vigilant, watching out for kryptonite, guarding the progress he has made.