Burning Out: Adults Who Work With Youth Feel Stress Too

In the past, Parenthetical has focused on why parental self-care is important and what it can look like in practice. This week we’re extending the self-care conversation to teachers and practitioners who work with youth on a daily basis.

Why Burn Out?

Individuals working directly with youth report a significant amount of investment and passion for their work. However, many factors related to the actual experience of delivering such services make teachers and practitioners particularly likely to experience high levels of stress, anxiety, depression, physical illness, and other mental health issues.

Burn out is often related to:

  • Increased case load (e.g., larger classes, more clients, etc.
  • Lack of mentoring and/or support within the organization of employment
  • Lack of skills specific to common challenges experienced in the particular job
  • Increased emotional and behavioral issues present in youth
  • Lack of immediate, positive results (progress with any one youth may be slow or nonexistent)
  • Low salaries (as are common of teaching and human service positions)
  • Limited resources
  • Diminishing respect for education and human service professions

The dedication and passion for making a difference, coupled with these limiting factors, can create a sense of hopelessness. It is harder to see progress within schools and programs when, often times, new problems arise as quickly as old ones are resolved, new youth enter the picture, and youth who have begun to do well leave. Burn out can become an ongoing issue.

Is Burn Out Really All That Bad?

Sometimes too much work or exhaustion can be overcome with a vacation or some “time away.” But this isn’t always the case, particularly among service providers who are constantly faced with demands and challenges under less than ideal working conditions or who may have limited vacation time. Prolonged burn out has been related to poorer health outcomes, high rates of turnover within youth-serving organizations, and poorer interaction between practitioners and youth.

How to Deal with Burn Out?

  • Practice self-care. You really can’t do this enough. Whether it is in the moment (e.g., stepping away from a stressful situation and coming back to it later) or as a daily practice (e.g., before bed each night), having a routine or go-to way to ground yourself and take some perspective can make working with youth in high stress situations much easier. If you need ideas for self-care, check out our post on 50 ways parents can practice self-care (LINK).
  • Talk to others. Being able to share your experience can provide healthy outlets to process incidents and feelings as well as see things in a different light. Problems that look insurmountable in the moment can actually become much more tolerable when viewed in a different light with input from others.
  • Find organizational support. Finding a supportive supervisor or co-worker to serve as a mentor and help guide your work is important because these individuals are familiar with the work that you do and likely have experiences relevant to the challenges you face. Not only can they share their tips for what has and has not worked to guide you in your practice, but they can also provide you with the positive feedback and perspective that many be scarce in your interactions with youth.
  • Remember why you’re there. Most individuals who enter a direct-service career care a lot about working with and helping youth. Every once in a while, take time to check in with yourself about why you are doing the work that you do. Think about your recent accomplishments and some hurdles you’re still working out. Try making a list of “current challenges” and then checking back in with the list every few months as a tangible reminder of how much progress you have made. You may notice that some problems have become less troublesome or even disappeared!
  • Make it fun. Unfortunately, many teachers and practitioners often experience resource limitations and tight budgets. Try to find ways to spice up your work with the resources that are available to you. Bonus: this can be great for the youth as well and can be as simple as moving an activity outside or finding a hands-on activity that will get the youth excited.

 Parents, you can help!

Between teachers, mentors, coaches, and program facilitators, there are many adults that play a role in your child’s day-to-day life. When these adults feel committed to, supported in, and hopeful about their work, both you and your youth benefit. Taking time to share positive feedback with the other adults in your kids’ lives when they are doing a good job or you see progress in your teen can help these adults focus on the positive and feel supported.


As a parent what have been your experiences communicating with and supporting professionals who are involved in your child’s life?

If you were (or are) an adult working with teens, what kind of feedback would you like to hear from parents?


Article by Dayana Kupisk

dkupDayana is a graduate student in Human Development & Family Studies at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Dayana previously worked as a life skills coordinator at a residential living program for teens and young adults. She has one older brother, and, for the first time in her life, is living in a different state from her parents.