I remember reading an article a few years ago where a college sophomore said that being Pre-Med at a prestigious university was actually less stressful than attending high school. She described how she worked herself to the bone to get into what she thought was the college of her dreams, but needed to defer a year because she was so mentally exhausted her parents were worried about her mental health. She ended up taking a gap year because she could not shake the stress and anxiety of her high school experience.
High school can be a tough time for teenagers. These young people are experiencing puberty, making decisions that will impact their futures, and managing issues such as dating, peer pressure, alcohol and drug use, driving, social media, and so much more.
Some high school students cruise through this time without a problem. Many others, however, struggle and feel completely overwhelmed with the complexity of the experience.
There is an overabundance of pressure on our teenagers to excel in every aspect of their lives. Somehow we have created a “quest for the best” mentality that pushes kids to be on all the right teams, get the best grades, and make sure they get into a top college.
It’s just not sustainable.
According to a 2019 Prew Research Study, 61% of teens 13-17 years old say they are under a lot of pressure to produce good grades. To put this in perspective, this percentage is twice as high as those pressured to look good or fit in socially which were common stressors when we were growing up in the 80s and 90s.
A 2019 Washington Post study reported that 75% of high schoolers and 50% of middle schoolers described themselves as “often or always feeling stressed” by schoolwork.
We know that teenagers were significantly impacted during the COVID-19 pandemic and that the college admissions process is more competitive than ever, so we anticipate only seeing a rise in these statistics moving forward, particularly when it comes to academic burnout.
What is High School Burnout
Burnout syndrome is a feeling of chronic stress that often makes someone feel physically and emotionally exhausted.
In adolescents, symptoms of burnout can look like:
- chronic exhaustion and never feeling rested
- loss of appetite
- loss of focus/motivation or detachment
- physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches, or nausea
- overwhelming cynicism or progression towards hopelessness
- Self-doubt or negative self-talk
How is this burnout happening?
Many students get up early to attend a meeting before school, go to a rigorous schedule of classes, participate in extra-curricular sports or activities, hold a part-time job, study for college entrance exams, fill out college applications, and then come home to study at night. Add some social engagements, and it’s no wonder why they are exhausted!
Who is to blame for this burnout?
The sources of stress come from multiple places, including overzealous parents, certain types of communities or schools, college admissions, social media, and often the students themselves. Additionally, because high school is a long four years, trying to keep up a frenetic pace for the duration also causes burnout.
We need to take burnout seriously, as it can have both serious short and long-term effects, such as mental health issues, low self-esteem, increased attention-seeking, and risky behaviors, increased risk of quitting or failing out of school, and lowered self-esteem.
As parents, we can feel helpless when figuring out strategies to help them, but it is something we have to address before it spins out of control.
Here are five ways parents can help to prevent high school burnout
Carve Out Personal Time
It is critical to teach your teenager about self-care and putting their mental health and wellbeing first.
These days, it can start to feel like homework and after-school activities take up every waking moment of your big kid’s life! For many teenagers, extracurriculars can take three hours after school each day (if not more), and homework can add another 3-4 hours. This means your student could be spending another full day of work after attending school during regular hours.
Thee is also the pressure to have the best college application possible, so that means a rigorous course load full of AP and honors classes. Then you need to do service hours and test prep and acquire recommendations and fill out mountains of paperwork and on and on.
In other words, many students have little or no time to engage in hobbies or activities they find fulfilling outside of those required or expected of them.
It’s important that they carve out some time just to rest and recover and to do the things that bring them joy. This might mean having them schedule an hour in their calendar or even insisting upon it at a certain routine time(i.e., Sunday morning or a free weeknight.)
If possible, try to encourage your teen to stay off their phone unless they are using it for something productive (scrolling social media or certain videos can actually further deplete your teen’s energy.) Instead, give them a few suggestions for self-care activities to incorporate into their free time that can help reduce stress, such as listening to music or an audiobook, watching a movie, taking a hike, or attending an event. Don’t underestimate the power of having your teen invite a friend over “just to chill.”
Teenage burnout typically starts with saying yes to too many things. Many teens worry about turning down social engagements or every ask from their friends. It’s important to teach your kids that before saying yes to anything, they need to stop and think about their current obligations.
Saying no has been made to sound like a negative thing, even when it can be the best thing you can say. It’s essential to not only tell our kids that it’s okay to say no but to model it for them as well.
Develop Healthy Stress Management Strategies
Developing healthy stress management habits and strategies are vital to keeping your teens from experiencing burnout in high school. Talk with your teen about anxiety and stress, and teach them about healthy stress management strategies they can implement. And as always, if you feel like your teen is not acting right, reach out to a mental health therapist or your primary care doctor for a consultation.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- When you feel overwhelmed, make a list of the things you can control and the things you cannot. Focus only on the things within your control.
- Practice relaxation techniques, such as yoga or meditation. There are some great apps for mindfulness for teens.
- Fight stress with exercise.
- Incorporate positive mantras into your daily routine.
- Get enough rest and sleep. A key component to this is keeping smartphones and other electronics outside of bedrooms.
Let Your Child Know It’s Okay To Ask For Help
As a parent, sometimes, we miss the signs of teen anxiety. It’s important to let your child know that they can always ask for help if they are feeling overwhelmed. This may mean talking to their teacher about schoolwork, their guidance counselor about their academic schedule, parents about home obligations, or even their sports coach about their practice demands. If your child is struggling, they need to learn to ask for help before they become overwhelmed.
Instill Healthy Habits to Combat Teenage Burnout
Healthy habits can not only help your child feel better but can also help combat teenage burnout! Running is a great stress reliever, but it is also a great way to keep your body in shape. Eating a healthy diet is not only a way to fuel your body, but your mind as well. Teach your teen to start instilling healthy habits at home, so when they do finally leave the nest, they have healthy habits that will last a lifetime.
Additionally, let your teen know that it’s okay to take the easy way every once in a while. If your student excels at math, maybe they don’t take time-intensive AP English. Or if they have a 98% in Health, they don’t have to do the extra credit. We all want our teen’s to do their best, but they also need to know how to prioritize.
These five tips will help prevent teenage burnout and make a significant impact on your teen’s life! These are not only great ways to avoid burnout but tips that can be useful for dealing with daily stress as well.