How to Help Your Child Avoid the High School Burnout


How to Help Your Child Avoid the High School Burnout

In the upside-down pandemic landscape, keeping your high school student’s head in the game is more important than ever. When literally no one knows how college admissions will ultimately be affected, too many kids are tempted to hit snooze on the alarm, put their head back under the pillow, and make things worse for themselves. High school burnout becomes an instant issue instead of the usually more drawn-out process. 

First, let’s acknowledge, and help your kid acknowledge, that if we have time to read blogs like this and worry about these issues, we almost certainly have a lot to be thankful for. Families continue to be torn apart in horrible ways by the virus and if we don’t have those problems, then we can definitely deal with the problems we do have. 

But that brings me to my second caveat: our own problems don’t become meaningless when others around us have it worse. As much as I want to lose it when my teen moans that the pandemic is ruining his life, I know he wants to lose it every time I growl that he needs to count his blessings. The point is this: both things are true. The pandemic is ruining his life and he should count his blessings. 

In this blog I will give suggestions for how to help your child avoid the high school burnout in Covid-19’s world. Let’s consider how high achieving teenagers can respond positively to plans gone awry.

Extracurriculars: The Ruined High School Experience

Top students run themselves ragged to earn a spot on the championship team, to get the lead in the musical, to be elected president of their clubs. These kids were already on the road to burning out in many cases because they were working so hard when suddenly, the rewards for their efforts evaporated. It has been crushing to watch. So, it’s more important than ever to validate the disappointment and feeling of fatalism that fills the void. 

“What is the point of working hard for anything anymore?” This is the sigh that has been heard from teenagers around the world. It feels brutally unfair and impossibly wrong, and there’s nothing anyone can do to fix these losses. But as parents, we have to find ways that keep our kids moving to the next step.

Small steps will suffice. Your teen does not have to recreate every lost opportunity by forcing the existence of some online version. What I suggest is that they connect with the larger world of people who feel the same way. Dancers, for instance, whose performances will not take place can still find the world of dance and immerse themselves in it. The American Dance Theatre is streaming incredible things. Other artists offer pandemic versions of their work, reimagined for virtual sharing and participation. 

Every medium, even the most hands-on and audience-dependent, has similar resources swelling on the web. Encourage your kids to document the ones they try. Track their passion in a journal of appreciation for what members of their community are doing. If eventually they are inspired to create their own blog, channel, website— fantastic! But if you push too hard in any direction, the result may be the opposite of what is intended. Avoid the high school burnout by appreciating any effort they make to stay committed to their extracurriculars.

Academics: The Frozen GPA

With many US high schools converting to pass/fail metrics for the spring term, students who were counting on an end of year push to revive their grades are out of luck. And those who have now locked in top marks feel little motivation to keep killing themselves for every point that will no longer be tracked. It’s tough to avoid the high school burnout when faced with the reality that their ongoing grades really don’t matter. You need to live in the same reality and admit that the fine points of GPA and class rank no longer have the same meaning. 

But what does have meaning is effort. Such efforts not only guarantee that learning continues to happen, they also support the educational community at a really important time. Remind them that this new, frustrating situation includes their teachers who now struggle to hold the attention of even more apathetic teenagers. Moreover, colleges will still be paying attention to letters of recommendation and difficulty of coursework — so it’s still worth working hard this semester, even if there’s no specific numerical reflection.

Classrooms: Zoom Meeting Doldrums

The kids who show up, turn their cameras on, respond to discussion questions, appear for online office hours, and continue doing their best will absolutely make an impression on teachers who are approaching burnout themselves. 

Teachers have had to learn technology techniques and create new curriculum; their appreciation for students who try to fully participate will be reflected in the recommendations they write. Your kids will also find lifelong mentors in these instructors. That last point may be tough for them to see right now but remind them about the recommendations. They need to at least disguise if not avoid the high school burnout if they want to preserve their relationships with teachers and earn glowing letters.

College Planning: Campus Lockdowns

For many teens, one way to avoid the high school burnout has been to dive into college planning. Visiting a campus and experiencing a bit of what college will be like, and envisioning themselves there with new autonomy has provided students the motivation to push hard and finish high school with a bang. Instead, college campuses are closed, and any sense of independence has been socially isolated into meaninglessness. Remind them that while we may not know exactly what it will look like, the future will exist, and it will include college. Websites like YouVisit give them a glimpse of places that might be their next homes. 

Colleges are also organizing online information sessions and panels that can still get high school students excited about the possibilities that await as well as answer any questions that they might have. Encourage your teen to actively research their options and to keep a running google doc with links to the things they discover about colleges. These links will be helpful when they make their final lists and write school-specific supplemental essays. And thinking about what they want from the future can help motivate them to stay hopeful and enthusiastic today.

Independence: Stuck at Home

I actually homeschooled each of my three kids for the two fleeting years when they were in junior high. Many of the lessons I learned then apply even more so to older kids in social isolation with their families. Giving them space is incredibly important. You need to remember that if their attitude, behavior, or grooming is driving you crazy, the reverse is almost certainly also true. You are in each other’s faces way more than is optimal. You are seeing so much more of your kids that it is tempting to micromanage and nitpick. No one will be happy if you give in to these temptations. 

I fought off high school burnout with my two eldest kids in the old world where they went to high school every day, achievements were acknowledged, GPA mattered, etc. For my third kid that is currently in high school, the parameters are different, but the goals and methods are the same. Being supportive and encouraging is going to be rewarding all around. Nagging will just further underscore how much independence they are missing under the circumstances.

Limit yourself to very few suggestions, or they will be summarily dismissed. Try leaving a note or sending a text instead of engaging directly. Try to give your kids room to be a little lazy, to have a bit of a bad attitude. They’re teenagers.

Staying positive, giving space, and reminding kids of tangible reasons to keep working can help. But nothing makes this surreal situation normal or awesome. Acknowledge that and keep your kids looking forward and hopefully you can avoid the high school burnout!

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