Burnout Risk: Is Your Teen Burning the Candle at Both Ends?

There is a common idea that teenagers are lazy. More often than that, I hear of teens who are constantly on the go, running from school to numerous extracurricular activities and to jobs. These kids short themselves on sleep and catch meals when they can. Their parents contact me, worried their kids are at risk of a major burnout because they’re burning the candle at both ends. These fears are valid. Kids who work this hard are at risk of burning out, falling ill, or even being in an accident. So what can you do to protect your over-achieving child? First, you have to face the fact that this is a choice your teen is making. You can’t force them to give up activities or to slow down. Attempting to do that might just backfire on you. Even if they did give up something in order to please you, they’d likely pour all that energy into their remaining activities. Or they might push back against your wishes, continuing to burn the midnight oil, possibly even adding additional obligations to their plate. Being an overachiever isn’t the worst trait a kid can have, but it doesn’t allow for a healthy balanced life either. It might be helpful to check in with your Internal Guidance System (IGS) in order to learn where your child got this trait. Are they following in your footsteps? Or are they living up to the example set by an older sibling? Has your child been like this their entire life? Maybe their friends are exhibiting these workaholic tendencies. While you can’t force your child to change their behavior, you can set a healthy example and encourage them to have more balance in their life. Your IGS can help you assist your teen. It’ll help you know how best to reach them and how to allay your own fears. Encouraging your teen to tap into their own IGS is also a good idea. This can help them determine why they’re so determined to cram everything in. Are they exploring options and really having fun or is there something more to it? Are they concerned that this is the only chance they’ll have at what they’re pursuing? Or are they keeping themselves busy in order to avoid something else? Do they think this is what’s expected of them? Perhaps they’re feeling pressure to perform in order to get into the right school or to get the perfect job. It could be that they’ve watched one or both parents pour themselves into their work and are modeling their behavior after yours or your spouse’s. You may not even be aware of it. Or it might be something quite the opposite. If they have a sibling who tends to be more lackadaisical about life and they hear you admonishing that child, they might be overcompensating in an effort to please you. They just might be working so hard so that they don’t feel your disapproval because they were so sensitive to the messages their brother or sister has received. If your child is happy and healthy with decent grades despite being busy and ambitious, it might be that there’s nothing to be done. Even if it might be in their best interests to dial it down a notch, you might not be able to convince them that they should. You can always voice your concerns, but worrying about it won’t do anything for anyone’s health. Remind your child that you love them just because. Let them know that no matter what path they take in life, they’ll always be in yours. Help them to be comfortable with themselves. Teenagers tend to believe they’re invincible. It’s possible that they won’t really hear your concerns until they actually get sick and are forced to slow down. The Universe has a way of making everyone pay attention. If they don’t listen to the gentle whispers, then the Universe’s messages will get louder. If this happens, try to avoid saying — or giving off the attitude of — “I told you so.” As natural a reaction as that might be, it won’t help your teen. Getting sick may be emotionally challenging for a kid who’s forced to suddenly give up much of their life, even if only temporarily. Sitting on the sidelines without all their activities may cause them to feel slightly lesser. They may feel like they’ve lost part of their identity. This’ll be a time when they need your support and understanding more than ever. Encourage your teen to look at everything they’re doing. Once they’ve been forced to step back from their obligations for a little while, can they assess them from a different perspective? Using their IGS, they might be able to weigh all the things they like about the various activities and focus on the ones that interest them the most. Hopefully no one in your family will have to actually suffer burnout physically or emotionally, but if they do, it might just be the perfect opportunity for the entire family to take a look at their lives both individually and collectively. Is anyone else burning the candle at both ends? Is everyone connecting as a family? Or are you all running around in separate directions at a million miles an hour? Take this time to think about what’s important to you as a family and the life you want your child to have. It’s better to experience a minor burnout that teaches them how to achieve balance in their life now, rather than a major one later that takes them out of it entirely.

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