‘Gifted Kid Burnout’ – More than a Joke

Ishanvi D (Year 10)

“I’m going as a former Gifted kid for Halloween, the whole costume is just going to be people asking, ‘What are you supposed to be?’ and me saying, ‘I was supposed to be a lot of things.’ 

The concept of the ‘gifted kid burnout’ has been raised before, though in recent years it has become a punchline for social media posts deploring the ‘gifted kid’ label and its negative impacts on wellbeing and education. Despite the humour that comes with these posts, the serious undertones of this issue cannot be disregarded.  

The phrase ‘gifted kid burnout’ has been thrown around the internet, but how exactly is it defined?  

The Davidson Institute claims it is as a “chronic exhaustion that stems from a mismatch between the individual and their current educational environment … gifted kids may also experience burnout due to the unique sources of stress in their lives and the expectations that come with being gifted.” Put simply, kids that are considered ‘gifted’ experience academic underperformance as a consequence of becoming tired dealing with expectations of perfectionism which cause constant stress.  

Experiencing the gifted kid burnout myself, I can say that I peaked in Year 4 and from there my academic success had been steadily declining. In my youngers years I was placed in a class where most of the students did not grasp concepts as quickly as I did. As a result, good grades came easily and I was constantly praised, eventually becoming labelled as ‘gifted’. These labels inflated an ego that was too big for my small body and made me convinced myself I was some kind of ultra-talented genius. I stopped trying as hard in class because I knew I would achieve great results. However, at some point, gifted kids have to move on to harder classes. 

In Year 7, I was placed into the ‘A’ class, where I found myself surrounded by other students whose academic level matched my own and I was no longer the ‘smart kid’. I was just ordinary. I was imperfect. Because I was so accustomed to relying on simply my natural ability, I did not know how to study and found myself trying to catch up on so much classwork in so little time. At one point I simply stopped trying because was too afraid that I would never be ‘smart again’, no matter how hard I tried. 

According to Professor Carol Dweck, this is called the ‘low-effort syndrome’. Students believe that intelligence is a fixed trait and develop fixed mindsets which make it difficult to transition into higher education as it is seen as something that “threatened to unmask their flaws and turn them from winners into losers” so they stop trying to protect their egos.  

Because I had been defined by my intelligence for so long, I felt as if the inability to produce high level results made me a failure and thus, I had no motivation to continue with schoolwork. This is the epitome of the ‘gifted-kid burnout’.  

I am not alone in this mindset. My fellow classmate who has also been labelled as ‘gifted’ expressed that “when teachers have a gifted class, they expect the best of the best. When students hear that it’s the same. When you don’t live up to that or you stray for one second people get mad.” 

This experience is a reflection of our education system that values results over wellbeing. Due to the nature of the HSC, the end goal isn’t to learn, it is a to get a number, a rank which determines your ‘intelligence’.   

So how do we cure this burnout? 

We may not be able to fix the education system and the pressure that it results in, but we can start changing our mindset and value character traits and effort more than academic ability. We must break free of labels and realise that intelligence is not a fixed trait. 

To all the ‘gifted’ kids, we may have had a head start, but what’s going to happen when we are walking whilst everyone else is running?