Mia Zazueta is pictured studying. (Alexandrah Naranjo / L.A. Times HS Insider)

Education

Opinion: Gifted kid burnout — real or fallacy?

Is gifted kid burnout a founded notion, or just another one of the internet's dumb trends?
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/alexella123/" target="_self">Alexandrah Naranjo</a>

Alexandrah Naranjo

February 18, 2022
The term gifted kid burnout has struck a chord with many following its popularization on social media, bringing together a common community who all felt the phrase applies to them. The question is, is this internet slang founded, or just one of many phrases on the long list of nonsense the internet has created.

Many people know what this term means, but still, more don’t, so how exactly is it defined?

According to the Davidson Institute, gifted child burnout is defined as “chronic exhaustion that stems from a mismatch between the individual and their current educational environment … gifted child burnout is often tied to an educational system that the child finds repetitive, unrewarding, without autonomy, unfair, or not aligned with their values. Gifted kids may also experience burnout due to the unique sources of stress in their lives and the expectations that come with being gifted.” 

However, more simply put, Urban Dictionary defines it as, “when children who were once considered the “gifted” or “smart” kids in class grow up to underperform academically and (likely) socially. “ 

So is there truth in it? Here’s the long answer.

I personally struggle with the effects of gifted kid burnout and the trials that come with learning that maybe you’re not as smart as you think. Growing up, many gifted kids aren’t yet put into these special classes, and they are grouped with children who don’t grasp these things as quickly as they do. In my early grades, I was sat next to the kids who’d need more attention so I could help them out. I was the student who always finished their work first, and was always told by teachers at parent conferences how smart I was.

From there, you begin to get a taste for what you’re experiencing. Good grades with ease, being known as the “smart kid.” You get accustomed to being the best, which is all good and well until it’s not.

At some point, many gifted kids move into harder classes. With this comes a harsh realization: you’re no longer the “smart kid”, you’re just another student whose skill level is matched by many. You now have to put in the effort to keep up, and you are so used to getting perfect grades that anything less than that is a failure.

As a child who grew up with strict expectations, I never felt like I was able to take a break and step back. By the time those outward expectations had lifted, it was so ingrained in my head that I couldn’t fathom the thought of not being perfect, and I’m not alone in that mindset.

“I think it starts when we begin to undervalue our work,” sophomore Brian Hernandez said. “It’s funny because when people say ‘how do I have an ‘A’ in whatever,’ I just think to myself, ‘I just do the work.’ When in reality, I’m practically killing my days by sitting down and doing work for hours.”

This sort of thinking often makes it difficult to bother trying at all. When we make a simple error, we can insist it’s simply because we aren’t good enough, and convince our brains that we may as well give up. We then distance ourselves from our work until we finally fall prey to our old habits. The thought of being anything less than perfect creeps in and we realize that we were stupid to think we could let it go and that we now have to complete whatever task it was anyways. We degrade ourselves for “wasting time” and procrastinating when usually a break was well in order.

Gifted kid burnout affects not only school but who the child is as a person. They lose sight of their priorities, their sense of worth and find it difficult to display a growth mindset when they are not immediately good at something. Many also struggle with outward consequences like procrastination, lack of sleep, anxiety, and other mental health issues. All these habits and more can often stick with someone into adulthood.

To finally answer the question, is gifted kid burnout real? In short? Absolutely. It is a defined struggle with overlapping cause and effect among many subjects. Though it started as a funny internet trend, the truth behind its basis is darker than it seems, and deserves some light to be shed on it.

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