This post: Worried Your Teen is Burned Out? Here’s How to Spot It and Take Action
Written by: Marybeth Bock
Homework, studying, sports, extracurriculars, a part-time job or internship, volunteering – a lot of teenagers today are physically and mentally exhausted just trying to keep up with daily life. And, it’s not necessarily because they want to be, but because they feel they need to be to round out their resume so they can be competitive in the college application process.
The average teen is up at the crack of dawn, goes to school, focuses throughout the day, is involved in extracurriculars after school, and then comes home exhausted only to eat a quick dinner and tackle another three to five hours of homework until they finally collapse into bed around midnight or later.
Like it or not, this constant, unrelenting, always-on-the-go schedule is taking its toll on our teens in a big way. The fact is, far too many teenagers are silently hitting a wall and becoming totally burned out.
As parents (and as a society), we need to teach our kids to take better care of themselves. We need to give them the freedom to put their hand up to the world and say, “That’s enough for today. My mental and physical health matters more than my accomplishments.” We need to teach them when and how to relax.
Worried Your Teen is Burned Out? Here’s How to Spot It and Take Action
What Exactly is Burnout?
According to the APA Dictionary of Psychology, burnout is “physical, emotional or mental exhaustion, accompanied by decreased motivation, lowered performance and negative attitudes toward oneself and others.”
What makes it challenging for teens is that they may not realize they’re even burned out until it’s too late – when they’ve crossed that line from being “really tired” to “too exhausted to function.” And, because teens may not yet have the emotional maturity to verbalize what they’re feeling, we might not even realize our kids are nearing the breaking point.
Signs Your Teen Might Be Burned Out
Burnout looks different for everyone, so not all teens will experience the same symptoms or to the same degree. Here are some of the main signs that your teen might be burned out according to Psychology Today.
- Feelings of fatigue or exhaustion
- Feeling apathetic or a lack of motivation
- Feelings of negativity or cynicism
- Reduced performance, productivity, or concentration
- Physical issues including, (but not limited to), tension headaches, gastrointestinal problems, or panic attacks
- Increased irritability
- Changes in sleep or loss of appetite
- Feeling anxious or depressed
It’s important to note that symptoms of burnout and depression can mirror each other so it’s important to keep a watchful eye on your teen. If you suspect your teen might be clinically depressed, have them evaluated by a healthcare professional.
Why Are So Many Teenagers Experiencing Burnout?
While some people may scoff at the idea of a teen experiencing burnout, those of us who see, first-hand, the pressure our teens are under fully understand why and how the burnout rate for teenagers is so high.
Here are some eye-opening statistics rounded up by Research.com:
- Seven out of ten teens in the U.S. (between 13 and 17 years old) have named anxiety or depression as a major problem among their peers in the community.
- 75% of U.S. high school students expressed boredom, anger, sadness, fear, or stress while in school.
- On a 10-point scale, where normal values for adults are 3.8, American teens rated their stress rate at an average score of 5.8.
- Three-quarters (75%) of American high schoolers and half of middle schoolers described themselves as “often or always feeling stressed” by schoolwork.
- A recent poll that asked tens of thousands of high school students how often they felt stressed out, nearly 45% said “all the time.” What’s even more concerning is when teens were asked what they do to help manage their stress, 34.5% said, “Nothing.”
5 Reasons Teens are Vulnerable to Burnout
There are many reasons why teenagers might reach the point of being burned out. But when you boil it down, there are a handful of primary reasons today’s teens are hitting a wall.
1. Academic Pressure and Stress
It all starts when our kids hit middle school with many kids feeling like they jumped onboard the hamster wheel of preparing for college. In fact, 61% of middle schoolers admit feeling pressure to get good grades. And, the pressure to perform academically spikes in high school. Teens today are constantly worried about exams, taking rigorous classes, GPAs, standardized test scores, and having enough extracurricular activities to build up their resumes.
2. Relationship Issues
Conflict with parents, siblings, teachers or coaches, relationship problems with girlfriends or boyfriends, and friend drama are a lot to think about and handle when you’re a young teenager still learning how to navigate complex relationships. For teens, it can be exhausting and draining to feel so much all the time.
3. Negative Thoughts or Feelings About Themselves
The teen years are filled with a boatload of self-doubt and comparison, which is why most teens experience a serious drop in self-esteem when they hit puberty. Mounds of changes happening both in their bodies and minds make them question everything about themselves. And, the comparison trap of social media with its haze of filtered realism certainly doesn’t help.
4. The “Push” to Grow Up
Whether we admit it or not, nearly every parent nudges their teen (sometimes, a little too hard) to grow up. While we do it with all good intentions, the sheer stress and anxiety of learning how to adult and make big (often life-altering) decisions long before they’re ready can zap teens of their energy and burn them out.
5. Underlying Worry and Fear
Inside the mind of a teen lies a ton of worry and fear. From the fear of being bullied and the threat of school violence to the worry of not fitting in at school and the absolute fear of not getting into a “good” college – nothing can wear a teen out more than all the constant worry and fear of life. So much intense emotion (and oftentimes, not venting how they feel) can be downright debilitating triggering burnout.
5 Ways You Can Help If Your Teen is Burned Out
If you’re worried your teen is burned out, here are a few ways you can help them cope and get back to a healthy emotional and physical state.
1. Start with Honest Communication
The first step is to open the door to honest communication and try to get into your teen’s head about how they’re feeling. If they brush you off, suggest they talk to a school counselor or even a therapist. This is also a perfect opportunity for self-reflection, parents. Are you putting unrealistic expectations on your teen to be successful at school or in their sport? Have you pushed them to participate in activities that they don’t really enjoy? It might be time for a reality check and to assure your teen that you love them unconditionally, not just when they perform well.
2. Help Your Teen Learn to Set Boundaries (and Say “No”)
Your teen needs to learn to say “no,” when they’re physically exhausted or mentally drained. Whether they turn down a friend’s offer to hang out and instead spend the night relaxing and listening to music or they say no to that extra AP class, they need to become their very own best friend.
Encourage them to take time for themselves and be realistic about their time and energy. Nothing matters more than their physical and mental health.
3. Make Physical Health a Priority
If your teen is like most, chances are they’re sleep deprived which is impacting nearly every aspect of their life. And, if their schedule is packed, there’s also a good chance they’re not slowing down long enough to eat healthy meals. If you’re worried your teen is burned out, helping them get even a few more hours of sleep a week can do wonders for them! They’ll be in a better mood, better equipped to handle stress and they’ll improve their brain function. Eating healthily and exercising (if they don’t play a sport) can also do wonders to improve their overall health and fend off burnout.
4. Encourage Healthy Coping Mechanisms
Help your teen come up with a few go-to methods to cope when life gets overwhelming. Whether it’s listening to music, diving into a hobby, hanging out with friends, watching Netflix, exercising, playing with a pet, playing video games, or watching funny Tik Tok videos – encourage them to take the break they need.
5. Embrace the “Good Enough” Mindset
The constant pursuit of perfection is wearing far too many teens out. The desire to be the best in school or sports. The pressure to look great, dress fashionably, or say the right thing. The longing to fit in or be popular. Make no mistake about it, teens feel this pressure every single day. As parents, we need to help them step off the pedestal of perfection. They need to know that their mental health is more important than their grades, getting into a top-tier college, or being the top scorer on the team. Model behavior that embraces “good enough” and praise progress, not perfection.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to balance. The sooner our teens learn how to achieve a healthy balance in school, activities, friends and life, in general, the less chance they have of experiencing burnout.
Marybeth Bock, MPH, is Mom to two young adults and one delightful hound dog. She has logged time as a military spouse, childbirth educator, college instructor, and freelance writer. She lives in Arizona and thoroughly enjoys research and writing – as long as iced coffee is involved. Her work can be found on numerous websites and in two books. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.
If you enjoyed reading, “Worried Your Teen is Burned Out? Here’s How to Spot It and Take Action,” check out these other posts!
Teenage Mental Health: Red Flags Every Parent Should Watch For
Healthy Coping Skills for Teenagers: 10 Ways to Relieve Stress & Anxiety
Are you worried your teen is burned out? What are things you’re doing as a parent to help them manage and cope? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below!
Leave a Reply