In today’s school settings, an alarming increase in student apathy has become a concerning issue. School officials report decreased student motivation, engagement, concern, and enthusiasm, which hinders students’ success and emotional development. 

Why is student apathy such a concern?

  • Personal and academic development: Apathy hinders a student’s personal growth, academic development, and ability to develop their skills and talents. When students don’t even try, they don’t take the risk that leads to learning about themselves and developing an understanding of their strengths, weaknesses, and passions. Apathetic students miss out on the opportunity to develop essential qualities and skills, hindering their future educational and job opportunities. 
  • Disruption in the learning environmentApathetic students can disrupt the learning environment for others. When a significant number of students are disinterested, it becomes challenging for teachers to maintain an engaging and productive classroom atmosphere. This affects the overall quality of education and hampers the learning experience for all students.
  • Emotional Impact: Apathy among students can lead to boredom, depression, anxiety, and lack of self-worth. Being productive, creative, and taking healthy risks increases feelings of positive self-respect. When a student is not actively engaged in their life or taking thoughtful risks, it negatively impacts their emotional well-being.
  • Society Impact:  Apathetic students may grow up to become apathetic adults. Education plays a vital role in preparing individuals to become responsible and engaged citizens who contribute positively to society. When students lack motivation and fail to develop a sense of social responsibility, it can lead to a less active and participatory society, potentially causing societal deterioration.
  • Economic Impact:  Apathy among students can have long-term economic consequences. A skilled and educated workforce is crucial for economic growth and development. When students are apathetic and do not acquire the necessary knowledge and skills, it can lead to a less productive workforce, reduced innovation, and limited economic progress.

Erik Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development

Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development states that becoming emotionally mature and responsible happens through stages throughout one’s lifespan. According to Erikson’s theory, to move from one stage to the next, a person must resolve a psychosocial conflict (learning to trust, be autonomous, start tasks, be competent, etc.) while getting their needs and wants met in socially appropriate ways. Failure to successfully overcome these conflicts can cause a child to become stuck at an earlier developmental stage, essentially keeping them immature. 

For the purpose of this article, we are addressing just two of these stages.

  • During the preschool years, a child is learning initiative.  They are learning to assert their power and control through play and social interactions. Successful resolution of this conflict results in a sense of capability and initiative. While unresolved conflicts lead to feelings of guilt, self-doubt, and a lack of purpose. Students stuck in this stage may struggle with initiating relationships and lack confidence in their abilities.
  • During the elementary years, a child is learning how to be industrious. This stage occurs during elementary school when children encounter social and academic demands. Successful resolution of this conflict fosters a sense of pride and competence, while unresolved conflicts contribute to feelings of inferiority. Students who are stuck in this stage may feel inadequate and give up when faced with challenges or tasks. They may also feel the need to “prove” themselves in unhealthy ways.

What causes a child to become stuck in an earlier stage of development and contributes to apathy?

  1. Limited socialization and experiences:  Technology has reduced many children’s face-to-face interactions. Children need face-to-face experiences to learn how to make and keep friends, engage in play, take turns, share, and cooperate with others. 
  2. Impact on Learning and Exploration: Excessive time on video games and social media has discouraged active learning and exploration, replacing it with instant gratification. To be good learners, children need experiences to develop frustration tolerance and be willing to try, fail and try again.
  3. The “Everyone Gets a Ribbon” Mindset: This was started to ensure that nobody ever felt bad about themselves; however, it has produced a situation where there is no purpose in trying, setting goals, or doing well. The idea that everyone will succeed regardless of effort or talent has diminished motivation and resilience. Where is the fun, honesty, and excitement? The belief that you should be successful without effort or talent has created a lack of honesty about one’s abilities. 
  4. Over-validation of unhealthy coping skills and toxic thinking: There is an increased tendency to validate thoughts and feelings to the detriment of youth developing positive and healthy coping skills. This over-validation can set up an unrealistic expectation that life should always be happy, easy, and exciting. For some of our youth, even minor obstacles can significantly derail them, leading some to self-destructive thoughts and behavior (i.e. suicidal ideation, drugs/alcohol, unhealthy sexual behavior, etc.).
  5. Decreased Discipline and Accountability: The decline in discipline and accountability fosters a belief that actions should have no consequences, leading to a distorted sense of responsibility. Unfortunately, a tendency to shield children from consequences and offering second chances has become prevalent in society, depriving them of vital growth opportunities.


How to move through these stages

To navigate Erik Erickson’s stages effectively, children require a balance of support and discipline. Educators play a crucial role in creating an environment conducive to learning by providing safety, structure, consistency, relationships, empathy, and clear boundaries.  When both educators and students fulfill their responsibilities, trust and healthy bonds can develop, leading to positive behavioral changes, maturity, and growth and pave the way for a brighter future.

To learn more take a live course  or an on demand course or purchase our book “Healing Discipline: Bringing Hope to Shattered Lives, A Guide for Educators.” We are also happy to discuss any questions or concerns you might have via phone or email.  You can contact us at 1-888-311-1883 or email us at

Healing Children, LLC.  This blog is copyrighted material used with permission from © (2012-2024) Sharelynn, LLC. All rights reserved. 


Share This Post

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Get updates and learn from the best

More To Explore