‘Gifted kid burnout’ is more than a punchline

Damaging academic perfection can have lasting consequences

Image by: Maia McCann
The social media trend alludes to serious mental health issues.

The concept of ‘gifted kid burnout’ has been around on the internet for a while, but it’s recently found a second wind on TikTok.

My social media feeds have been flooded with posts lamenting the negative impact former ‘gifted kids’ feel the label has had on their wellbeing. Whether it’s someone my age filming themselves lying in bed all day to the popular “I can’t talk right now, I’m doing sad gifted kid burnout shit” audio or a tweet expressing someone’s frustration with their inability to stick with new hobbies they’re not immediately good at, people have a lot to say about the lasting effects of early gifted education—and none of it is good.

Gifted students face social-emotional difficulties including anxiety, depression, and harmful perfectionism. These are common themes among ‘gifted kid burnout’ posts, as well as feelings of constantly underachieving, difficulty sleeping, and issues with time management and procrastination.

As someone who grew up attending school in a gifted program until high school, I found the accuracy of the posts uncanny. I too have experienced academic and personal burnout, crushing self-doubt, and anxiety about underperforming in my achievements. While a lot of the ‘gifted kid burnout’ content is approached with a sense of humour, the serious undertones to this conversation suggest that something could be seriously wrong.

Undoubtedly, gifted programs as they currently exist in our public education are flawed. There are frequently a disproportionate number of neurodiverse students in gifted classes, and these programs too often lack the resources to cater to the needs of these students one-on-one. Research has shown that low-income children, girls, and students of colour are systematically under-referred to gifted programs. For students who are not referred, the cost of soliciting the necessary testing from a child psychologist to enter the program can present a financial barrier for their families. In terms of making these programs effective and accessible, there’s a lot of work that must be done.

Gifted programs also feed into a damaging culture of academic competition that extends well beyond any specific program or class. The impact of perfectionism on mental health articulated in these ‘gifted kid burnout’ posts isn’t something that’s exclusive to students who grew up in gifted programs—it’s, unfortunately, common among many students. I feel the same pressure to compete against my peers here at Queen’s as I did in my fourth-grade class.

I know I struggle to set realistic and healthy expectations for myself, and that can manifest in a cycle of overworking myself and burning out. I’ve been at points when I can’t motivate myself to keep up with classwork because the work I’m completing isn’t perfect, and other times I’m keeping myself so busy I don’t have time to sleep.

I do think some of this can be related back to my early education in a gifted program. Learning in an environment where perfectionism and high achievement is praised above everything else, you start to form your sense of identity around doing well all the time. That’s not sustainable.

But this isn’t an experience unique to former gifted kids—it’s a reflection of an education system that values results over wellness, and prioritizes grades over learning. There’s nothing wrong with a little healthy competition or academic rigour, but students need to feel supported throughout their education regardless of performance. ‘Gifted kid burnout’ is a natural consequence of encouraging kids to associate their sense of self-worth with their grades. It’s hard to separate yourself from that kind of mentality. I know I’m still struggling to do so as an adult.

If you’re watching ‘gifted kid burnout’ videos on TikTok and they seem a little too relatable, it might be a sign you need to step back and evaluate how your education is impacting your self-esteem and wellbeing. Perfectionism isn’t a funny, throw-away term, but something that can actively damage your mental health. There are resources out there, though, that can help you start to detangle your sense of identity from your achievements.

While I enjoy the validation that comes from seeing my experience reflected in the ‘gifted kid burnout’ posts—and I’ve definitely chuckled at more than one—I often have to remind myself that, while humour is a great way to cope with tough situations, burnout itself isn’t a joke. When I laugh a little too hard, I’m reminded that I still have work to do toward taking my wellness seriously.


academic, Mental health

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