- Braxton Moral, 16, will graduate from Harvard in May.
- Like many other gifted teenagers, Moral experienced existential depression when he was younger.
- Experts say that’s because gifted young people tend to be more thoughtful, reflective, and intense.
Braxton Moral is 16 years old and is graduating from high school – and from Harvard – in May.
The New York Times reports that Moral has been studying at Harvard’s extension school, taking most of his classes online, since he was in middle school. According to Mihir Zaveri at The Times, Braxton hopes to attend Harvard Law School and maybe even run for president eventually.
But, as is the case with many gifted kids and teenagers, Moral’s success and ambition may have a dark side. Moral’s mother, Julie Moral, told Zaveri that while Moral was in elementary school, the Duke University Talent Identification Program got in touch with them.
“They said he was having existential depression,” Julie Moral told The Times. “It’s where you’re like, ‘What’s my purpose? Is there a God?’ It’s something that most people have – a midlife crisis. He had it like, in fifth grade.”
The program said Moral needed stimulation, which is how he ultimately wound up at the Harvard Extension School.
‘Existential depression’ is more common among gifted young people
Experts say “existential depression” – when you confront issues like death and meaninglessness – is more common among intellectually gifted young people. On the Davidson Institute for Talent Development website, the late psychologist James Webb presents a few potential reasons why.
For example, gifted kids and teens are more inclined toward deep thought and reflection. They also tend to be “intense,” and feel disappointed and frustrated when things aren’t ideal. Webb writes that gifted young people may also contemplate questions like, “Why do people engage in hypocritical behaviours in which they say one thing and then do another?” and “How much difference in the world can one person’s life make?”
What’s more, other people may not necessarily relate to their concerns.
In some ways, this predisposition toward existential anxiety may serve them well. On Psychology Today, psychotherapist Elizabeth Donovan writes that “the ability for smart teens to embrace deep existential questions and attempt to formulate answers may just put them one step ahead as they enter adulthood.”
But Webb writes that those who care for kids or teens in the throes of existential depression should help the young people “feel that they are understood and not so alone,” for example by talking about a time when they had a similar experience.
As for Moral, he told The Times that he tries not to be consumed by his own intellect. “I’m a really ambitious person,” he told The Times. “I think it’s important to have goals and achieve those goals, and it’s important to be charismatic and likable. You want to be relatable.”
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