The Warning Signs of Teen Burnout

Updated: February 12, 2020
Everyone experiences burnout at some point in their lives. If your teen seems out of sorts, look for these signs to know if burnout is imminent.
Burnt out teen girl sitting alone on outside steps

Adults and college students aren’t the only ones experiencing burn out. Teens today are just as stressed as those in older generations, and may not be as equipped to deal with the fall out of taking on too much because of the stage they are at in life. In a 2014 study conducted by the American Psychological Association, 31% of teens reported feeling overwhelmed as a result of stress, while 30% reported feeling depressed or sad. 

More: What to Do If You Catch Your Teen Sexting: A Step-By-Step Guide

Pay attention to these warning signs which may be present in advance of a complete burn out so you can work with your teen to confront their struggles head-on.

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Insomnia

Burnt out teen struggling with insomnia

While a longtime stereotype of teens is that they love their sleep, something might be going on beneath the surface if they are having a harder time than usual going to bed at night. Encourage them to limit their screen time on devices prior to bed to ensure they are able to have a good night of rest. 

Heightened Anxiety

Burnt out teen with anxiety holding head in hands

The inability to relax can be extremely frustrating, especially during downtime. If your teen is feeling generally restless and anxious, burn out could be the cause. 

Changing Eating Habits

Burnt out teen eating junk food

Whether it’s over-eating or under-eating, a change in eating habits could mean that they are feeling burnt out. Consuming too many unhealthy foods may cause continued mood swings and lead to additional undesirable types of behavior. In the APA study, 23% of surveyed teens disclosed skipping a meal due to stress. 

Risky Actions

Burnt out teen receiving drugs at party

If your teen is experimenting with drugs and/or alcohol for the first time, or you suspect they could be using substances more frequently, they could be using them as a means of escape from their stress. 

Impulsive/Emotional Behavior

Burnt out teen experiencing mood swings

Instead of blaming mood swings immediately on hormones, look a little deeper because burn out could be to blame. If your teen is experiencing intense periods of anger, frustration, sadness, or other emotions, it’s likely time to have a conversation about stress. 

How To Help Stressed Out Teens

Burnt out teen is consoled by mother

Now that you’re aware of some of the characteristics of a burnt-out teen, learning how to help is critical to making sure that they begin feeling like themself again. Blaire Lent, FamilyEducation’s Teen Expert and Owner of The Complete Student, shared expertise about discussing burn out with your teen.

“One strategy that many parents have success with is asking their teen if they know anyone in their class who is exhibiting symptoms of burnout. Approaching topics with your teen in this way allows them to answer openly without fear that there may be a consequence- such as, 'I can't tell my mom how I am feeling over-tired because then I will lose my phone at night.' Giving your teen an opportunity to open up about symptoms and then to have a conversation with you about how you would handle that symptom is the best way to keep your teen engaged in the topic without risking them shutting down.” 

Lent continued: “If your teen admits that some friend is frantically trying to balance studying, college searches, dance practice, swim team, and friends...and family..and that they are really feeling spent, then let your teen know ways that you would approach the situation. Are there some activities that can be reduced? Should I be turning off screens earlier so that I am more rested to stay engaged in these activities? Have I created a PAPER schedule so I can see how much time there is or is not? Phrasing these as "I" statements allow your (sometimes sensitive) teen to not feel judged or attacked. After all, we are just talking about a 'friend' and you.”

Instead of coming down too harshly on your teen about their behavior should they be exhibiting any of the above warning signs, use it as an opportunity to impart wisdom about time management, setting priorities, and de-stressing. 

Lent explains: “One of the biggest ways parents can help relieve pressure on their teen is to help them make choices about how to manage their time. Being a teenager is hard. There are millions of new experiences, and lots of pressures, coupled with a very limited amount of life experience. It was not too long ago that they needed you to pick out clothes for them, brush their teeth, and remind them to go to the bathroom. Five years does not an expert make.”

“Parents have had much more time to fail at stopping before they reach burnout. Those 'failures' have given parents the wisdom to know how to stop their frantic pace before it's too late. Share that wisdom with your teen and then step back and let them gather success and failures of their own so that they can have the wisdom to share one day too.”

Afraid your teen is taking too much on? Find out if you should let your teen take a “mental health day”.