Prisma is the world’s most engaging virtual school that combines a fun, real-world curriculum with powerful mentorship from experienced coaches and a supportive peer community
The numbers continue to climb: Adolescents are struggling with mental health, thanks to stressors including the pandemic, the college admissions process, and a feeling of disconnection from their school experience — whether that means bullying, boredom or a lack of friends. For kids in underrepresented minorities, such as LGBTQ+ students, these problems are magnified.
Humans are well-equipped to deal with occasional sources of stress; our nervous system evolved to keep us balanced between responding to immediate threats and meeting our everyday needs. The trick is to keep that balance.
When stress levels stay elevated, the body doesn’t get a chance to recover. We’re constantly in fight-or-flight, which means we aren’t able to do all the other things humans crave: to learn, create, and bond with one another.
If this continues for a long enough period, the end result is burn-out. First defined by the World Health Organization as “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed,” burnout was once seen as an issue of work-life balance that only impacted adults. Instead, now other forms of burnout are being recognized, including gifted-child, caregiver and school-related burnout.
Here’s what student burnout might look like and how to avoid — or recover from — it.
Chronic stress impacts all aspects of our health: physical, mental and emotional. You might notice changes to your child’s sleep and eating habits. They may have physiological symptoms, like head or stomach aches that can’t be explained by other factors. They may struggle to focus on their work or appear distracted in conversations with others. Some students’ grades will be impacted, while others may be able to power through their burnout as if propelled by a superhuman force.
Psychologically, they may seem resigned to speed through their schoolwork as quickly as possible, or express hopelessness that they’ll never dig themselves out from under the mountain of assignments they face. Mood-wise, you may see irritability, emotional exhaustion, anger or even anxiety and depression.
It can be a challenge to trace back the symptoms to a single root cause, but here’s one tell-tale sign of school-related burnout: The symptoms worsen during the school year and improve during vacation.
Whether you believe your child already meets the criteria for burnout or you are worried that they’re heading that way, here are ways to help them recover from — or avoid — getting caught in a stress spiral.
For some high-achieving students, high school can feel like running on a hamster wheel. That constant stress of keeping a valedictory-level academic performance in a schedule packed with honors and ap classes is a one-way ticket to academic burnout.
But we also know that an endless string of As is not the same as achieving mastery in a subject. Research has shown that letter grades encourage high performers to do ‘just enough’ to get an A, without encouraging them to fulfill their actual potential.
If your school assigns letter grades and your student’s self-esteem appears to be hostage to a 4.0 GPA, you can start to course correct by de-emphasizing their scores and getting them to explain what they’ve learned instead. However, as much as you want to change the conversation, those efforts might be a drop in the bucket if the overall school environment is very grade-centric. A more meaningful intervention might be to consider an approach to school like Prisma that uses holistic, feedback-based assessments and emphasizes a growth mindset.
Part of stepping off the grade hamster wheel means stepping into a sense of self: doing work that is meaningful to you. The problem is, in an overly prescriptive curriculum, kids don’t get the opportunity to figure it out for themselves; then, when they hit the workforce, they’re up against the double pressure of earning a living while trying to discover their identity.
The best way to prevent this from happening is by allowing them to center their passions now. Any topic can become the subject of serious study — whether it’s video games, baking, or a cartoon character — what matters is the scaffolding that goes around it: engaging activities of increasing complexity that help the learner use their passion to develop core skills and extend their expertise to new disciplines.
If your student just can’t bear to write another five paragraph essay about a series of lectures they had to sit through, consider letting them have some low-stakes fun instead by using writing prompts that relate to their everyday experience.
The increase of burnout across age groups is a direct product of Today’s hyper-productive, hyper-connected go-go-go society. That means as parents, we sometimes may have to go against the grain and encourage our children to rest rather than do one more extracurricular activity.
Review your child’s schedule with them, and see where they might like to scale back. Focus on the extracurriculars that are fun (not something to pad a college application), make sure there’s time for socializing and alone time (especially for introverts!), and then take a deep breath and reduce some of your commitments. It might feel “impossible” at first, but believe us, it’s not.
If this feels incredibly difficult for you to do with your child, you may also want to look at your own schedule, and your own beliefs about busyness and productivity — there might be room for you to find some free time for yourself and role model this behavior shift for your child.
Part of navigating the bumps of life is creating healthy habits that serve as anchors, no matter what unfolds. The specifics will look different for every family and every child, but certain bases to cover include:
- sufficient sleep
- regular exercise
- time outdoors
- a healthy diet
- opportunities to socialize
In the Prisma high school class, Life Skills, we empower kids to develop healthy habits that work for them, by encouraging them to start small and build, as they experiment with what makes them feel good.
If your child is struggling with serious burnout, recruit an extra set of eyes and ears to support them — and you. Whether you enlist a therapist, a coach, their school guidance counselor or a community mentor, don’t feel like it’s your sole responsibility to diagnose and treat your child’s burnout.
If there’s one bright light in the research about adolescent mental health struggles, it’s this conclusion: “school connectedness helps students thrive.” What that message underscores is the fact that families are not alone in addressing their child’s burnout. In fact, when you find a community for your student in which they feel safe and supported, you’re actually taking significant steps to avoid these mental health struggles.
At its core, Prisma is a learner-centric community. Friendships and strong coach-learner bonds are not seen as “nice-to-haves,” but rather, they are the foundation of the learning experience. When you show up at school every day, to peers who are cheering you on, and a coach who knows your strengths and struggles, you experience a positive feedback loop that makes burnout far less likely.
For so many people, in-person school is the default — but so many of the stressors that contribute to burnout could be minimized or eliminated by attending school at home: You get control over your environment, when you socialize and with whom, and you have more flexibility in your schedule.
If your child needs more hours of sleep, more time to run around, or more me-time, some of the feelings of burnout might improve by switching to home-based education. (Read more on the various options, including homeschool and online school.)
Want to learn more about how Prisma can empower your child to thrive?Talk with usTalk with us
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