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The ins and outs of “gifted kid burnout”

 

Above average. Clever. Genius. Gifted. Tons of kids are told this at a young age, setting up the foundation for a lifetime of insurmountable expectations to fulfill, leading to what many are calling "gifted kid burnout."

We've gathered testimonies and advice from real girls to help us explore all the ins and outs of gifted kid burnout to discover how *you* can navigate and overcome it.

But, first—what is "gifted kid burnout"?

Being called gifted is a double-edged sword. When you succeed, it’s because you’re ‘gifted.’ You are praised for your supposed natural talents. When you fail, you ask yourself if it’s because you’ve lost your gifts—and that thought always terrified me because after being called gifted, you feel guilty about being simply human—Nora S., high school junior

What happens when a smart kid grows up? Are they still smart or is that child intellect just that, of only childhood? Do they struggle against the confines of being labeled a smart kid?

These are questions explored in the phenomenon known as "gifted kid burnout," which is essentially what happens when kids are told they're special or gifted at a young age, leading to unrealistic expectations that incur self-defeating behaviors in order to cope with the failure or difficulty to meet said expectations.

Since my class was doing completely different stuff from the other kids in our grade at that school, we were told, both implicitly and explicitly, that we were special and destined to be great. But greatness isn’t a thing that can be detected when someone is applying to this program while still in the 3rd grade. It created this expectation that I had to be amazing at everything I did, which is obviously not realistic. —Erin J., high school senior

And the chances are, "gifted kid burnout" is a lot more common than you'd expect. Whether you attend a gifted program or school, are an honors/AP student or are just constantly praised for your academic ability, you've probably experienced it to some degree of intensity.

Viral relatability

In early winter this year, the audio “can’t talk right now, doing sad gifted kid burnout [things]” went viral all over TikTok.

@yulesmcgules

just to ✨feel something✨

♬ Sad Gifted Kid Burnout things - ✨L.✨

The trend brought about very real and relatable feelings about stress, depression and lack of self-worth and social skills due to "gifted" childhoods. Some people discuss the problems with basing self-worth on academic achievements. Others explore the challenges of not finding anything worthwhile unless they're automatically good at it. Above all, many of the videos center around the idea of perfectionism.

Gifted kids are often thrust into rigorous academic competition against themselves and those around them, instilling a need to always be the best, to always be perfect.

The pitfalls of perfect

We've all heard it before a million times: nobody's perfect. Sometimes, it still doesn't resonate. The cycle of perfectionism never seems to end—the more you try, the more you find things wrong, the more stressed and worked up you are about it, the more you try even more.

 For a while, being labeled 'gifted kid' made being smart the only part of identity, and that made me feel terrible because everyone else at my school was also smart. This led to a constant need for academic validation that was honestly just impossible to fully satiate—Marlena M., high school sophomore

The truth is that the paradox of perfection will leave you forever falling short. By searching for that unattainable green light at the end of the dock, you'll inevitably burn out—life just *never* seems like it can be perfect enough.

Breaking free from "smart"

Funnily enough, the key to escape gifted kid burnout is to let go of labels like "gifted," "smart" or "perfect." Once you stop identifying as gifted, you're free to define yourself outside of its confines. Many victims of gifted kid burnout subject themselves to a fixed mindset—either people are born smart or they aren't, and that's just the way life is. There develops an increasing emphasis on being or looking smart instead of aiming to learn more. When challenges arise, they're seen as threats to the intellect or ego instead of opportunities to grow, denting self-esteem and confidence.

The truth is, natural talents are *awesome,* but they don't make up for a lack of hard work or growth. Successful people are successful not because they're destined for success but because they work hard and were supported with the help they needed along the way. 

Mental health is unfortunately really stigmatized in competitive high schools, so it's important to remember that it's absolutely okay to struggle with anxiety, depression, etc., and asking for help or getting a therapist is always a healthy option. —Cora V., high school junior

It's super crucial to have a healthy support system to catch you when you're falling. Therapy is a great option to help unlearn harmful and toxic systems of thoughts that develop from gifted kid burnout, planting healthier narratives as a substitute. 

Prioritize Y-O-U

Self-care is a word used so often, the term can seem throw-away at times, but it's *critical* to beating gifted kid burnout. Carve out time for mindfulness, whether that be through a walk in the park or a checkup with a best friend. 

@sunflowersinead

😎✌️ ##giftedkid ##fyp ##baking ##foryou

♬ Sad Gifted Kid Burnout things - ✨L.✨

If you relate to gifted kid burnout TikToks a little *too* much, maybe it's a sign to zoom out a little and examine how your academic life is affecting your overall well-being. Gold stars are pretty, but they're not all that life's about. Even terms like "success" and "perfection" are so subjective and mysterious, it's hard to define what they really mean, much less achieve them.

Think about what makes you healthy and happy. If that’s being “normal” and taking things at a slower pace, so be it. It’s good to remind yourself that your academics and your future career doesn’t define you. There is so much more to life than academics and jobs. —Erin J.

No matter what, remember that it's *totally* normal to experience negative emotions or thoughts from academic pressure. You may feel like you're suffocating in gifted kid burnout, but we just know that you are capable of getting through it, capable of burning down all your struggles and worries to ashes. 

Go get 'em, girl on fire. 

How do you best deal with stress? Tell us on Instagram @girlslifemag!

All GIFs via GIPHY | Slider image via FilmNation Entertainment

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by Sophia Zhang | 7/25/2021
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