Academic burnout is real and preventable


Monica Velasquez

Working Hard: Pre-calculus students focus on their work in Caleb Allinson’s class. They studied hard for their upcoming tests. “Students can be great academically, but can also be influenced by the competitive environment and class pressure,” senior Nathaly Fallas says.

Disclaimer: gifted students are not the only people affected by burnout.
Burnout is one of the primary culprits concerning lack of motivation in many high school students. Burnout is defined as “the chronic exhaustion that stems from a mismatch between the individual and their current educational environment,” according to the Davidson Institute.
Characterized by apathy, exhaustion and irritability, academic burnout affects students worldwide.
Gifted children’s involvement within American school systems and gifted programs is different from that of the average student. These students are often put in advanced programs at young ages, praised for their genius, and consistently told they are better than their peers. They become tired of dealing with the pressures and desire for perfection in their youth and face issues with mental health and motivation later in life.
Highlighting their experiences and struggles is essential when tackling how to reverse academic burnout.
“I needed to get so much [work] done and had so little time to do it… which made it really hard to be motivated to even start because if I can’t get all of it done, why try?” sophomore Arianna Beal, a student that grew up in an accelerated educational environment, said.
American school systems are designed not only for students to learn different subjects but to learn good habits. They teach children how to socialize, lead and, of course, study. The average student’s responsibility gradually increases as they advance in school, learning discipline and good study strategies to keep up with the curriculum. This system, however, does not work for gifted students.

Throughout their elementary and middle school years, talented students often do not need to study because of the way their brains are wired, leading to poor learning habits. Gifted children learn differently, often through memorization, abstract thinking, and metacognitive awareness. This go-with-the-flow mentality carries on in students’ later years until they reach a wall. This wall can look like an unfamiliar subject or the curriculum catching up with the student. As stated by the American Educational Research Association, a gifted student will have great difficulty overcoming a point where their raw intellect is not enough to overcome the obstacle. They are showered with applause at a young age, never learn interpersonal skills due to immaturity and fail to grow into mature adults.
The label “gifted” sets the scene for a student’s educational career, as they are separated from the normal kids, creating a sense of superiority in the gifted child. The term gifted cannot exist outside of a comparative framework, meaning the whole idea of a gifted kid exists in relationship to other children.
“I grew up above the standard [of students my age]. I was so used to that,” senior Kelly Nguyen said.
When students are labeled as gifted at a young age, it instills perfectionist ideals. They perceive themselves as failures if they don’t live up to seemingly impossible standards.
“My own self-expectations lead to me expecting too much [from myself],” Beal said, “which leads to more burnout and less motivation.”
Competition at school bleeds into family dynamics, especially when two or more children are labeled gifted.
“[My parents] always compared me to my brother,” sophomore Matthew Simmons said.
The unhealthy rivalry between siblings and peers could be detrimental as they determine their worth relative to another child’s success or failure.

Bright students are brimming with curiosity and compassion, so watching them experience burnout can be heartbreaking. However, gifted burnout is preventable and reversible. If we consider these students’ needs, we can help them thrive and reach their full potential.