Homework Can Turn Your Kid Into a Stressed-Out Wreck, Researchers Say



Sending your kid to school can be frustrating as hell. Top-down mandates and the reality that your child is just one among a roomful can restrict your options, even when you're lucky enough to have options from which to pick. Despite the variety of public, private, and charter schools near me, all of the parents I know complain that their kids have too much damned homework. Now, when we complain to teachers and administrators, we'll be armed with research suggesting that professional educators are trying to turn our kids into socially stunted weirdos.

Yeah. Really. A study, published last year in the Journal of Experimental Education, takes a dim view of the heavy workloads under which high school kids in "10 high-performing high schools in upper middle class communities" stagger.

Results indicated that students in these schools average more than 3 hr of homework per night. Students who did more hours of homework experienced greater behavioral engagement in school but also more academic stress, physical health problems, and lack of balance in their lives.

Which is to say, even if you think that homework can be a good thing, there's a limit. More is not better, say researchers from Stanford University, Lewis and Clark College, and Villanova University.

The communities the researchers focused on are more prosperous than the country as a whole, with median household income over $90,000, and 93 percent of students going on to college. They're also the sort of communities that would be most likely to emphasize and support academic success. Where their schools have gone is where many educators pushing heavier homework loads and higher standards around the country say they want to follow.

The Stanford News summarizes the researchers' findings:

  • Greater stress: 56 percent of the students considered homework a primary source of stress, according to the survey data. Forty-three percent viewed tests as a primary stressor, while 33 percent put the pressure to get good grades in that category. Less than 1 percent of the students said homework was not a stressor.
  • Reductions in health: In their open-ended answers, many students said their homework load led to sleep deprivation and other health problems. The researchers asked students whether they experienced health issues such as headaches, exhaustion, sleep deprivation, weight loss and stomach problems.
  • Less time for friends, family and extracurricular pursuits: Both the survey data and student responses indicate that spending too much time on homework meant that students were "not meeting their developmental needs or cultivating other critical life skills," according to the researchers. Students were more likely to drop activities, not see friends or family, and not pursue hobbies they enjoy.

Two hours of homework is at the high end of what high school students should be doing every day, the researchers report.

My eight-year-old son is younger than the researchers' subjects, and he's not yet—and never, so far as I'm concerned—carrying a daily, three-hour homework load. But he's already freaking out over what strikes me as excessive take-home assignments. Talking down a third-grader because he's overworked is a bizarre experience, but all too common among the families we know in a community that's not exactly an academic pressure cooker.

It looks like it's time for another chat with teacher and company. The goals, to explain once again, are healthy, educated, well-adjusted human beings. Stressed-out basket cases? Not so much.

You know who seems pretty happy and well-balanced? My nephew. He's being homeschooled.