How Virtual Learning Has Contributed to Gifted Kid Burnout

Rasmin Islam, Staff Writer

Taking advanced courses, excelling on exams, maintaining a 4.0 GPA, and receiving constant praise for your educational achievements—these are all actions that a number of students find themselves struggling with as they stress over academics.  

While some students feel the stress associated with the pressures of high academic achievement each and every day, others cannot relate to this experience. This small population of students is considered to be “gifted” among their peers. According to the National Association for Gifted Children, gifted students are those who “have the capability to perform—at higher levels compared to others of the same age, experience, and environment in one or more domains.” Gifted students are characterized as possessing leadership potential and display exceptional abilities in academic, creative, or artistic areas. 

In fourth grade, I was placed into my school’s Gifted and Talented (G.T.) program after exhibiting advanced levels in reading and writing. By first grade, I was reading texts at the second-grade level, then at the third-grade level by second grade, and so forth. My reading skills were reflected in the details and cohesiveness of pieces I wrote throughout elementary school. It was no surprise that I would go on to take Advanced English in middle school and currently be in AP Language and Composition and Journalism as a junior in high school. 

However, the expectations I had for my success in AP Lang haven’t quite matched with reality. For the first time in my academic career, I am earning average grades on multiple-choice tests. I find myself stressing over homework assignments that are meant to be straightforward. Even my enjoyment of the English subject has begun to deteriorate. 

There is a term that has been coined by Generation Z students for such a phenomenon I am currently experiencing: gifted kid burnout. “The burnt-out gifted kid is someone who has been paralyzed by their own potential,” states Tom Whyman of The Outline, an online publication focused on covering the “complex confluence of culture, power, and technology.” As young children, burnt-out gifted students found academics to come naturally to them, some may even say as simple as breathing. They were constantly commended for their high-level abilities and believed to continue excelling in higher education and as adults in the workforce. It is not until a drastic shift is made in the students’ lives, such as attending school with several other high-achieving students, that the burnt-out gifted kids realize they aren’t as exceptional as once thought. In the case of current gifted students, our drastic shift is the switch to virtual learning during a global pandemic. 

Beginning in March of 2020, public and private schools across the U.S. closed down in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. “At [the pandemic’s] peak, the closures affected at least 55.1 million students,” according to EducationWeek. Unable to attend school safely, students transitioned to online classes to end off the 2019-2020 school year and begin the 2020-2021 school year. It is no secret that students have struggled to adjust to a completely digital and isolated model of learning. As a result, students have been faced with a different hazard altogether: increased depression, anxiety, and other serious mental health conditions, expresses Carolyn Jones of EdSource. Unfortunately, even gifted students aren’t immune to these damaging effects of virtual learning.

“My grades have been perfect during this pandemic but my brain has been unable to retain anything learned from online school. I complete all my lessons and homework, pass the tests, and the next week, that same information dissipates,” Paint Branch junior Ann Marie Cole conveys.     

Maliha Jahan, another junior at Paint Branch, explains how she has lost motivation to complete her schoolwork because more assignments are being given to do in a shorter time frame. “As much as I don’t want to do my work, I know I need to finish it in order to maintain good grades, and that has increased my stress levels,” she says. 

While these two students are experiencing different mental struggles, both stem from academic fears that have developed due to the high standards they set for themselves as gifted students. The fear of not gaining new knowledge. The fear of failing classes. The fear of no longer being exceptional. What Ann Marie and Maliha were once praised for are now their biggest obstacles as students. 

It may seem dramatic how gifted students have been affected by the challenges of virtual learning, but it has truly had a severe impact on their perceptions of themselves. When you have performed remarkably at a certain activity for a long period of time, and you are suddenly no longer able to do so, it is a difficult truth to accept. Even under uncontrollable circumstances, such as a global pandemic, gifted students want to believe that they can withstand the situation at hand. They want to live up to the expectations they place on themselves and even those that others place upon them. However, as has become evident, academic achievement cannot and will not always be guaranteed. This is something that many gifted students, including myself, will have to come to terms with. And as we do, we should also realize that being “gifted,” “high-achieving,” and “advanced” is not the defining factor of our success, pride, or self-worth.