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Smart Kids, Big Problems

Smart Kids, Big ProblemsAs parents, we all hope to win the genetic lottery and produce a child with good looks, a pleasant disposition and the smarts to succeed. While intelligence is indeed a blessing, it comes with a few caveats. Despite having brains and talent, some of the smartest kids face serious problems, leaving their parents wondering, “What happened? He/she had so much potential.”

As it turns out, it may be because they have natural intelligence and talent that the brightest kids sometimes struggle more than the average child. If you’ve been blessed with a brainy child, here are a few issues that might require extra attention:

#1 Drug Use

Research shows that children with a high IQ may be more likely to experiment with illegal drugs later in life than less intellectually gifted kids. While intelligence isn’t generally considered a risk factor for addiction in the same way as family history or mental illness, the study uncovered some striking associations. For example, boys who had high IQ scores at age 5 were about 50 percent more likely than boys with a low IQ to have used amphetamines, ecstasy and other illegal drugs at age 30. Brainy 5-year-old girls were more than twice as likely to have used marijuana and cocaine as those with low IQ scores at age 30.

#2 Eating Disorders

Researchers have also observed a link between intelligence and eating disorders. The children who are most at risk of developing an eating disorder, say researchers from the University of Central London Institute of Child Health, have a higher IQ and better working memory but more difficulty controlling where they direct their attention than most children.

#3 Anxiety Disorders

Kids with high intelligence may struggle with anxiety more often than other children. One study found the higher the worry level, the greater the IQ score. This may make sense from an evolutionary standpoint, ensuring the survival of the fittest in moments of danger, but excessive worry can affect a young person’s academic performance and contribute to drug and alcohol abuse and other mental health issues.

#4 Staying Safe Online

Children may be smart enough to figure out new technologies (often even faster than their parents), but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re smart enough to use them safely. Many teens are engaging in risky behavior online, such as sharing personal information and interacting with people they don’t know.

The most recent Norton Online Family Report found that nearly 62 percent of kids worldwide have had negative experiences online, such as cyberbullying or receiving inappropriate photos from strangers. In one study, one-third of teens said they were considering meeting in person with someone they met on the Internet; 14 percent said they had already done so. One-third said their parents were clueless about their online activities, and nearly one-quarter had never talked to their parents about online safety.

#5 Giving Up When the Going Gets Tough

Because bright children are often praised for their innate abilities, such as intelligence, rather than their effort, some studies suggest that they tend to grow into adults who question their ability to master new skills and solve problems. When a challenge proves especially difficult, they give up quickly rather than working harder, assuming they simply don’t have it in them to succeed.

You can’t change your child’s IQ, but you can take steps to protect them from these and other problems by:

  • Talking frequently about the dangers of drugs and alcohol and other risky behaviors
  • Asking about your child’s views and listening nonjudgmentally
  • Establishing clear rules, expectations and family values
  • Using alcohol and medications responsibly and addressing your own mental health issues
  • Knowing what your child is doing, who they’re with, where they are and how they can be reached
  • Spending time together as a family (for example, sharing a meal, playing a game or going for a walk)
  • Seeking professional help at the earliest signs of drug abuse, an eating disorder or other mental health issue

Smart kids are more likely to prioritize their health by eating right and exercising; they’re more likely to earn a good income. But even more so than others, smart kids get bored. They rebel against the high expectations hoisted upon them by well-intentioned parents and teachers. They have feelings they don’t understand and busy minds and lives they want to escape. So instead of assuming, “My kid’s too smart for that,” let your child’s intelligence inspire both pride and vigilance.

Smart Kids, Big Problems

David Sack, M.D.

Dr. David Sack is board certified in psychiatry, addiction psychiatry, and addiction medicine. As CMO of Elements Behavioral Health, he oversees a nationwide network of treatment centers including drug and alcohol rehab programs at The Ranch in Tennessee and The Right Step in Texas.

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APA Reference
Sack, D. (2019). Smart Kids, Big Problems. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 11, 2020, from


Last updated: 3 Jul 2019
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