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I am asking this question on behalf of some of my extended family. I do know the child myself, but apart from one or two occasions where I have watched them it is mostly from a distance. For all intents, he is my little cousing we shall call Eric, age 8. If I use the word 'we', it is for the benefit of readability.

Eric is a child who would commonly be referred to as gifted. He is a very thoughtful child, and has an easy time figuring things out on his own - especially when it comes to subjects he is very interested in (which is almost everything, depending on his mood). He has also figured out that his parents don't have all the answers and will usually rely on books from the library to confirm or challenge his 'discoveries'.

In particular, he has a great interest in physics and he has self-derived some basic laws in statics and classical mechanics. The process is usually him sitting with a pencil and piece of paper in a state in which he doesn't want to be disturbed, looking at things around him or simple things he has constructed out of Household objects. When eventually done and he has checked he is in fact correct, he is always enthusiastic about sharing his work. Although he tends to isolate himself for this period, his parents feel they should nurture his talent and process so they do no interfere.

Unfortunately, his other major hobby also includes a manner of seclusion as he likes to write fiction. This he is a lot less eager about sharing, and he is visibly offended when someone reads his work accidentally or tries to peek over his shoulder. At one point it got bad enough that he even started becoming reluctant to share his scientific 'discoveries'.

This reached its pinnacle a little over a month ago when his parents found some of his writing in his room. Although the themes were beyond his age, it was not graphic or offensive in any way. Eric, however, obviously saw this as an invasion of his privacy and has since taken to writing ALL his work in a self-taught form of shorthand (We confirmed it is actual, he can repeat passages of his own work verbatim if so asked about the science stuff even days later).

We fear this manner of seclusion could harm him in the long run, but do not want to interfere with the development of his talents. The usual advice of Parents.SE in all cases seems to be to be or get involved as much as possible in all activities of the child but this is something the child obviously does not want. When attempts are made, he prefers to go do something else with the person (so he is not entirely anti-social!)

How do we encourage him developing his talents while still being able to shield him from harmful thoughts he may express in his prose, and generally supervise and - really - parent?

  • From age 5 to 12 a child has to be told this is right and this is wrong, but in your case I do not see he is doing something wrong, he is already developing his talents if his parents are not invading. I think you should introduce him to very interesting things in physics. Who knows he is next Einstein. What I want to say is help him to know, all he want is to know only one thing will make sure his talents will help this world is the lubrication of spirituality in his mind, i am sure he will be excited about how mind works, ask him to attend 10 days vipassana course (8 year old can meditate.) – Rishi Apr 6 '17 at 7:23
  • Thank your lucky stars you don't have a problem child, and go on with your life. – Ask About Monica Apr 21 '17 at 22:39
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"Shield him from harmful thoughts he may express in prose"?

Writing them down is absolutely not the problem here and I'm unsure what the issue is with him keeping his notes private. Most kids have kept journals, written stories etc. And in the main they are not for the consumption of anyone else. If this child is introverted and mathematical, this all seems perfectly normal.

If you are concerned about harmful thoughts, stopping him writing them down will not prevent any thoughts, and in fact could be harmful in cases where articulation of thoughts can help a child deal with concepts.

If you are concerned about a child wanting a private or secluded hobby, you absolutely should not be. A desire for seclusion in itself is a very common need, and as you have already stated, he has other hobbies that include seclusion that you are not worrying about.

Try and treat his story writing the same way as you do his physics. Encourage him when he does want to share his stories, and praise them the way you would his physics output. You have already seen what happens when you breach his trust - now you cannot read his shorthand, so have lost a possible way of understanding some of his unspoken thoughts.

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I could not agree more with Rory. His was an excellent answer. We all deserve respect and privacy and age has nothing to do with that.

If the child was showing any negative behaviours, like self-harming -- then this might be cause for concern, but from your information that appears to be not at all a problem.

Honestly, I'd sit down and apologise and ask for a clean slate. Promise that unless the boy has done something that truly warrants an invasion of privacy (for example he is caught stealing) then they will from this day forward respect his privacy. They must ask to be forgiven. Do not give reasons why they did this -- simply explain that they do in fact understand that they went too far and that they know they were wrong.

A real apology teaches as well as helps repair. I would not expect the boy to forgive immediately. Like anyone, he will need time to regain his trust. Trust might start off as a given, but once lost must be earned.

  • I find this advice hard to reconcile with the generic Parenting.SE advice (not necessarily from any one person) that parents should be encouraged to be as involved as possible in other classically 'solo' hobbies their children may have. Many questions on children and video gaming come to mind. Not saying it is bad advice, but I am wondering why this situation gets responded to differently. – Weckar E. Apr 6 '17 at 13:43
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    @WeckarE. I am not concerned about privacy as long as it is 1) in the home. and 2) not online or on the phone. – WRX Apr 6 '17 at 14:26
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    @WeckarE. - Just to add a bit of anecdotal evidence to this, my mother read my sister's journal when my sister and I were about 7 or 8. I STILL don't trust my mother not to invade my privacy "for my own good" 15 years later. In highschool when I kept a journal I made a chain cage for it that locked with a padlock. If she had at least apologized and let us know that she realized that invading our privacy was wrong then I probably would not have bothered literally locking my journal up. To summarize: I agree with Willow. – BunnyKnitter Apr 6 '17 at 15:33
  • @WeckarE. I think part of the difference is that (1) video gaming is probably more addictive, so there's less risk of turning the kid off of video gaming completely, and (2) if the kid does give up video games completely, that's not necessarily viewed as a bad thing. – Warren Dew Apr 8 '17 at 18:00
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To allow him to keep developing his talents, leave him alone when he wants to be left alone. Some people are introverts; trying to force them to be extraverted just stresses them out.

The parents should consider tutoring him or hiring a tutor to allow him to advance more quickly in mathematics, so he is not held back by the school curriculum.

Are the stories more like a journal, or more like fiction? If the latter, the parents could try gently to get him to open up about them some time when he's feeling more gregarious than usual, perhaps occasionally asking something like, "you've been in your room for a long time, is the writing going well?" Don't push if he doesn't open up, though.

If possible, get to know his classmates and see if any of them are also quiet and thoughtful and might enjoy each others' company.

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... while still being able to shield him from harmful thoughts...

What does that even mean? I doubt you can shield him from thoughts, harmful or otherwise. Kids do go though periods of terror (afraid of the dark, ghosts, nuclear war, zombies, Freddy, etc), if that happens, I'm sure he'll go to his parents and tell them about it.

There is nothing wrong in him seeking privacy, very few people like someone looking over their shoulder all the time. Given that he is doing work that requires mental focus (both writing and science/math), it's absolutely understandable he does not want to be distracted.

If you are concerned he is becoming too introverted and not developing social skills, try telling him that science is all about sharing your work with the world and collaborating with other scientists. You can tell him about Archimedes' letters to Eratosthenes in Alexandria and how his work would have been lost if not for them. Or about Cavendish measuring Newton's gravitational constant decades after Newton's death and plenty of other stories.

Take interest in his science work, discuss it with him, show him a different method of proof, teach him stuff and he'll open up to you.

If he is really gifted you'll probably want to find him a tutor or sign him up for a gifted program. Same for writing. Sign up with him for a creative writing course at the local community college.

Once he is around people who share his interests he'll open up.

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some children are naturally introverted, as I was as a child. Introverts can be happy and well adjusted. There is no reason to presume anything is wrong because a child likes to be alone or has private activities. I don't see anything wrong with his behaviors or worrying. There are only two times when this sort private nature would be worrying, but i don't think either applies here.

First would be if he showed signs of depression and/or demonstrated activities which suggested par of him wanted more interaction with others but he was too timid or uncertain how to pursue it. However, the fact you said he would actively and eagerly share what he learned with his family suggests he does not struggle with social interaction when he chooses to pursue them.

The other situation would be if he showed an inability to handle social interactions when they did happen. That would be something like not knowing how to speak to his peers when he is trying to engage with them or being unable to understand/empathis with another's perspective. You didn't mention these as problems, if they are I would post a seperate question for how to help him with these issues.

However, since you didn't mention any depression or difficulty in social situations it sounds to me like he is simply an introvert. About 1/4 of the population are introverted. There is no problem here, and nothing that needs fixed! In fact one of the areas where introverts struggle is the fact that people so often are trying to 'fix' them by trying to pressure them to engage in social interactions, making them feel guilty for not being more social, or otherwise implying that there is something wrong. I have a good friend who is an introvert but places significant pressure on herself to try to 'live up' to her friends expectations for her to socilize more, despite it leaving her feeling drained and overcommitted at times because she isn't getting the alone time she needs to recuperate from excessive social activities.

So in short I don't think it's a problem, and I specifically encourage you not to try to fix it unless you have a further reason to believe there is a problem. Trying to push him into more social activities likely would just leave him feeling emotionally drained and/or that there is something wrong with him when there isn't.

As to his writing I would appologize for accidentally reading it and promise him that you won't do it again. in fact as a peace offering I would offer him a better means of keeping it private, such as a lockable notebook, an hand-me-down computer he can write and save his writing on (which can be password protected if he chooses), or somewhere else he can keep it safe where no one can accidentally, or intentionally, read it. This show's sincerity in the intent to not read anything he doesn't want you to. He shouldn't have to feel he needs to encode everything he writes, as it interferes with the writing process and thus benefit he gets out of writing to have to constantly stop to translate it. Getting him a safe space where he is confident his writing is his own would be better.

I would continue to let him know that when he is ready to share any of it you would love to her it, but also that he doesn't have to share it if he doesn't want to and that is fine also. Basically make it clear that you recognize that this is something important to him and he is allowed to do what he wants with this time.

Separate from the above there is the statement about 'harmful thoughts', and his writing being 'above his age'. This implies that you found something worrying about what was read at some point, though It's hard to be certain without more detail. If for some reason what he wrote did worry you I would not cut him off from his writing, as that is an important emotional outlet for a child, in fact it's all the more important that they feel their writing is secure. Instead seeking ways to communicate with him outside of his writing, to help him feel secure in communicating what he is feeling verbally to you or his family, would be best. I could go into more detail, but I don't want to waste too much time when I'm not sure if I'm interpreting the situation right, so I'd instead say if you post a second question about how to help a child to work through anything that he may have expressed in his writing with a little more detail we could give ideas for good way to handle it.

Having said that one thing I've learned working with children is that adults don't always give them enough credit. Many things that someone may think is above their age level isn't. Children can have complex emotional and developmental through processes, and at that age he is no doubt going through thoughts about relationships and sex as well. I would say if whatever he wrote would not be concerning to you were an adult to write it then it probably shouldn't worry you that he is, unless it's showing an in-depth knowledge of something he should not have been exposed to.

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