To The Kids Who Read At An 8th-Grade Level When They Were In 4th Grade

I like to talk about the obvious signs that I would be an English major throughout my life. For the longest time, I thought it was going viral on Wattpad (yeah, I’m ashamed, but it’s my origin story) because that was the first moment I realized someone could enjoy my writing. I’ve been sitting on that thought, though, and I think it may be something much further back. I think it was when my fourth-grade teacher thought I was advanced enough to read Bridge to Terabithia. 

When my teacher pulled me aside and let me read “the big kid book” (which I never even finished), something clicked in my mind that I needed to impress. Suddenly, I had been put on a pedestal. I could read better than everyone around me, which meant I always had to read better than everyone around me. And I felt like a failure when I wasn’t doing my best reading.

I think my viral Wattpad story contributed to this as well. When people in my life found out my writing was popular, suddenly, everything I wrote had to be popular. And then I couldn’t just write for fun. I had to write for Wattpad or short stories for contests or entire books. When I didn’t come out with content fast enough, I felt like I was falling behind. I was 11. I wasn’t even in high school yet.

And now here I am. I’m 18 and can confidently say I’ve gotten more done than most 18-year-olds. I mean, really, who else gets to tell people they published a book at 15 years old? But I’ve gotten to thinking lately that maybe all of this pressure on myself to be the best all the time is doing more harm to me than good. I’m quite burnt out, and I haven’t even really figured out what I want to do with my life yet- I always thought I wanted to write, but what if I only chose that because my entire life, people told me that that was the token thing I was good at? What if I never had that time a child/teenager has to experiment with interests because I was always told, “Great reader and writer, horrible at STEM.”

It’s a bit dramatic. I still like writing and will pursue it as a career, but it’s just something I’ve been thinking about lately. What could I have been if I just read books at a normal level just like everyone else? What if my stupid Wattpad story never blew up, and I continued to only have 5 readers per book? There are so many things out there that I could have tried, and I just never did. That being said, the people around me told me this stuff for a reason. I would never have succeeded in a STEM field, but maybe I would be less inclined to shut down the idea of math and science if I was programmed to think I wasn’t good at it.

Gifted programs have started to get scrutiny throughout the education system recently. The Education Corner said, “Research has shown that a child’s self-esteem can suffer when they no longer feel they have an academic advantage over their peers; they compare themselves to their gifted peers and might feel they do not measure up.” They also discussed forces outside school that can push this higher self-expectation. “Parents sometimes push children too hard if they think they are gifted…A child may also expect they can accomplish tasks easily because they have been told they are gifted and beat up on themselves if they have difficulty.” It seems to be a mutual understanding by everyone that these programs do more harm than good. So why do we keep doing this to kids?

This summer, I’ve gotten better at writing for fun. I had a lot of free time in May to just read and write, but now that my job has started, I’ve come cracking down on these imaginary deadlines I have for myself. I mean, here I am, writing an article at 11 p.m. the night before I have to wake up at 6 a.m. for work just because I felt unproductive. I guess those deadlines are fueled by one thing. I don’t want to fail. I don’t want to be known as the girl who published a book at 15 and never finished another novel. I mean, no one lets me forget that I still have another novel I should be working on because I tend to get reminded at least once a month that I’ve had no new writing. I suppose that was the start of this website- I definitely am still writing. Clearly, not all writing needs to be in the form of a novel, though I can promise there is a novel coming. I have so many different types of writing I can provide, and they may not be traditionally published, but they’re there. 

I think when you’re young, and an adult tells you you have some special skill that separates you from the rest of the class, it’s really cool at first. Obviously, it’s the best thing in the world to be praised as a kid. And honestly, the effects of that, like publishing my book, are some that I would never return. But the ultimate burnout and exhaustion that comes afterward is something that I would wish upon no one, so I think the education system needs to rethink how they tell kids they have a certain skill they might be more advanced in.

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