How to prevent burnout in children

An enthusiastic teenager I know excels at everything she puts her mind on, taking up projects and activities at school without the smallest hesitation

By Asha Iyer Kumar

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Published: Thu 21 Dec 2023, 12:50 PM

Last updated: Mon 29 Jan 2024, 7:40 AM

Dear Children,

It’s exciting to be in your company, thinking like you do and talking to you as if we were in a room together. Which is why I look forward to the weeks when I write to you. Your world is charming, yet chaotic; dynamic yet monotonous; and every time I delve into your space and emerge, I feel as if a new aspect of young life has been revealed – an aspect that I perhaps missed to see as a child or a teen. Being in your company makes me see the world differently. I realise how important it is to look through your eyes and know the world as you experience it.

In my previous column, I had addressed the issue of how, as children, at times, there is a lot in your plate – mostly imposed by parents – until you finish middle school. It occurred to me that there is another side to the problem of plenty as you enter high school. It is not parents who push you to take up more than what you can handle, but you often self-create a recipe of pressure in the name of building up a robust resume for college admissions.

While it gives me immense joy to see young minds coming together to take up macro issues and find resolution to them, and it amazes me to see how resourceful you are in terms of intellect and ingenuity, it also worries me that you may be biting more than you can chew. An enthusiastic teenager I know excels at everything she puts her mind on, taking up projects and activities at school without the smallest hesitation, staying back for extended hours, sitting up late to finish tasks – all with the intention of adding value to her CV and to prove herself as a worthy candidate in the future.

I could sense that fatigue that was creeping up on her, yet the will to persist and do exceptional was so strong that she pushed her boundaries, convincing herself that it was for the right purpose. She had naysayers from her past to prove wrong; there was a present in which she had to be relevant and a future where she had to wear many hats.

The pressure to perform (outside of academics) was self-created to carve a niche, but was it truly warranted?

She ‘got over-whelmed’ (the regular phrase we use for burnouts), and quietly crumbled; her academics suffered and before too late, she took a hiatus from all that hindered her real goal – studies.

Success is different things to different people. Your definition of it need not fit anyone else’s. Neither do you have squeeze yourself into the straightjacket others have made. Find out what you want to do without marring your sanity and stability, without falling into the traps of popular stereotypes, without walking into the landmines of peer pressure.

Do what you love to do, stretching without breaking. In the grand scheme of things, happiness and peace is not about how rich your CV is, but how healthy your mind and spirit is. Sing if you like; write if you enjoy; be a part of bigger things if they satisfy your soul.

The world will advise you otherwise. It will exhort you to kill yourself for honours. But you must know better. I have faith in your inelligence and judgement. As teens of new times, you know much more than what I knew when I was your age. You’ll know what’s good for you. Be prudent in your choices and be kind to yourself. Until next, keep growing. And keep glowing.


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