If you are looking for a safe place on the internet for gifted teens to gather, you will have a hard time. A gifted teen in England decided to change that.
She began her own group, The Gifted Gaggle, on the Mighty Networks platform. It bills itself as “A network of gifted teens supporting each other through the challenges and joys of our brains.”
I love that – “the challenges and joys of our brains.”
In this interview, I spoke with Olivia, the founder of The Gifted Gaggle. Olivia is a British teen living in England. She’s lived in the United States and the Netherlands as well. She typically attends a school designed for high achievers who are not necessarily gifted.
Olivia reached out to me, explaining that she had started an online group for gifted teens, and would I be willing to speak with her about it. I was intrigued, and what follows is an interview with a gifted kid…with a twist.
The Interview with a Gifted Kid Series
As part of my mission to make the world safe for the gifted, I interview
gifted kids (and grown-up gifted kids) and share their stories of life in
My hope is that it will create a body of voices that will be persuasive that
gifted students have needs, that giftedness isn’t some “get out of hardship in
school free” card, and that it will give hope to gifted individuals that they
are not alone.
If you’d like to be interviewed, please contact me. I want the stories told.
If you’d like to read all of the stories, you can find them here.
Let’s jump into my interview with Olivia.
What was your first exposure to the idea of giftedness?
Olivia: I came to the idea of giftedness was when I was thinking about it and talking to a friend whose been my best friend since Year 5. I was asking, “What is wrong with me? I have anxiety and quirkiness that’s just different.”
My friend had nothing to offer. She was similar. I realized it wasn’t anxiety. I read scientific papers. I asked my parents about it. They told me that I’d taught self to read when I was very, very young – preschooler. And then I wouldn’t stop reading.
Do you have siblings?
Olivia: I have a younger sister. She enjoys school and is self-motivated.
How has being gifted impacted at school?
Olivia: It’s been a wide array. Teachers either love the way I learn or hate me because I ask so many questions beyond what they’re supposed to be teaching. I’m drawn to English and history.
History gets the best of everything – it gets best of English, reading, writing, analyzing, psychology, and science. I really love computer science. It just clicks for me. I love that it always works if you do it right. It’s very simple, very step-by-step. It’s calming.
How does being gifted impact relationships at home?
Olivia: It annoys my sister. We don’t really talk about it, but when I get things faster (she’s better at social relationships) or I finish quickly, it irritates her. She’s better at social relationships than I am, though.
My dad doesn’t really understand. He was brought up in small village where they didn’t really have a recognition of it in school. My mum understands. Being gifted was frustrating for my mum. She didn’t have as many opportunities as I have had.
How does being gifted impact your social life?
Olivia: Frankly, I’m very bad at it. I have questions and sentences at the ready that I cycle through my head. “Hi I’m Grace. How are you?” I use to those to come across as more polite, and I practice them so I seem as normal as possible.
I’ve been bullied a lot. I was bullied through years 2 & 3 and 5 & 6, but they were different. In Years 2 & 3, the bullying was very physical. I was pinned to the ground, punched, my arm twisted behind back.
In Years 5 & 6 it was more appearance based. There was teasing about how I spoke – teaching me for having a posh accent. I’d get teased about test scores – “Oh, Olivia got a 100.” But it would be even worse when I didn’t get a 100.
The bullying definitely impacted my mental health and how I viewed myself. I saw myself as very different. To compensate, I overdid it on etiquette.
How did your parents respond?
Olivia: In Years 2 & 3, I didn’t tell anyone. If I got the courage to fight back, then I got in trouble with the teachers – it was my fault.
In years 5 & 6, my attitude was, “We’re going to be leaving soon” (They were moving out of the country), so I didn’t think it would make much difference.
My parents wanted to deal with it, but I didn’t want them to. It was mostly girls.
Now I’m back in that same school and the girls from years 2 & 3 are still there, but they’re a little scared of me now, so they leave me alone. (She’s currently in Year 9, which is 8th grade in the U.S.)
What do you think the school has done right?
Olivia: You know, they’re not very good at gifted. The school I attend is angled toward high achievers. They’re far more common – so you can understand it.
My friend and I have been emailing administrators over it. The Headmaster lives across the road, actually.
We want an increase in the variety of work. We want options for when we’re done. Now, if you’re done, we’re just given more of the same level of work – or even easier – which I’ve never really understood. It was different at my school in Holland. We didn’t have to work through bucket loads of questions if you’ve already shown what you can do.
[NOTE: Read this article for ideas.]
What about the teachers?
Olivia: English and history teachers always love my style of learning. My current English teacher saw my comments on Pride and Prejudice and she asked for comments on a character instead of general conversation in my essay. It was more interesting – really interesting.
NOTE: In the interview there followed here a deep conversation about Mr. Darcy. We talked about the ways in which he changed. We discussed how the story’s being told from Elizabeth’s perspective means that we only see what she thinks of him, and as more is revealed, it’s Elizabeth’s opinion of him that changes, not really Darcy himself. As an English teacher, that was wonderful!
Do you have any advice for parents?
Olivia: I wish they knew that it’s really hard. It’s not a charmed life. It’s not “gifted.” The English language terms it positively, but it’s not. It’s not a gift. It can be amazing, but not always. I wish they knew it’s certainly real, and it’s sometimes really hard.
Do you have any advice for teachers?
Olivia: They need to know that our brains work differently. We’re not just pushed by parents. We’re not always going to see things in the way you’re going to want us to see them. I got told off a lot in elementary school math because I got the answer a different way, but no one ever explained what was wrong with that.
Tell me about The Gifted Gaggle.
Olivia: I started it during lockdown in early 2020 on Mighty Networks. I’ve found that most research and articles on giftedness are aimed at grownups or teachers. The majority of parents of young children aren’t going to read that. It’s not often people around gifted teens searching, it’s them.
I realized that nothing was going to happen, so I might as well do it myself. I was scared. There eight members now. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but I didn’t expect it to happen at all.
[Join in here.]
Tell me the criteria for joining The Gifted Gaggle.
Olivia: It’s aimed at gifted teens 12 – 18 anywhere in the world. We just discuss things. It would be amazing if more people joined and it became really active. I think it could raise awareness – proper awareness and true understanding. It’s not about wanting attention.
There’s an app, so people can engage on their phones. It’s moderated, so there’s no craziness. I check carefully. It filters profanity and iffy stuff.
[Join here. It’s free.]
So that’s the main business. Let’s talk about your current reading situation.
Olivia: I’m reading Robin Stevens’ Murder Most Unladylike, The Mind’s I by Douglass Hofstadter, and The Hold Up by Graham Moore.
I get bored, so I have to have lots of different story lines. If possible, I like to read two books at one time. I get so absorbed in a story, it’s crazy.
What books do you recommend?
Olivia: Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice. I think you shouldn’t just read them. You should read them aloud.
I can read quite fast, when I read in my head, but to get the subtle comedy – the subtle remarks from the narrators – they’re best to be read aloud.
Also recommended: Amsterdam by Ian McEwan (adult)
NOTE: I have a collection of recommended books for gifted kids and teens here. The links are affiliate links, but it costs you nothing. Feel free to scan for ideas and get the books from your local library.
I just loved Olivia’s recognition of the gap in what’s available for gifted teens and her action to fill that gap.
Some takeaways from the interview:
- The teachers’ reactions were interesting. I think we need a better way to explain to kids why it’s important to solve a problem a certain way, and I think we need to make sure it really is before we die on that hill.
- Olivia’s reliance on memorized, practiced phrases and etiquette is intriguing to me. It seems there’s a perception that there is a correct way to interact with people. I’m wondering if that can really be learned. I know I haven’t mastered it, personally.
- The bullying was incredible in that it lasted so long and morphed into different manifestations. It seems likely that her being blamed for it is not unusual. It was so interesting that she’d get teased no matter how well she did.
- The line, “It’s not a charmed life” struck me. It’s not a charmed life.
- The Gifted Gaggle has real potential. I hope teens will see this article and join in.
- Olivia’s recommendation to read aloud was so interesting. The idea that you catch the subtlety that way was insightful.
I love interviewing these kids! If you would like to share your gifted experience (or you have a child who would), please let me know.
If you’re not on the email list and would like to be in the know, make that happen here.
You May Also Like:
- Explore the entire Interview with a Gifted Kid series.
- Early Finishers: Ideas for Teachers
- 9 Ideas for Early Finishers (Ideas for Students)
- 8 Benefits of Reading Classic Books