School, cello lessons, soccer practice, homework and family time. There truly aren't enough hours in the day for today's busy kids. As parents, you want to raise well-rounded children who will become successful adults, so you keep them active in school clubs, sports and more – and make sure they stay on top of school stuff. But when it comes to homework, a new study shows that too many hours of assignments are actually negatively impacting your child's emotional state.
High school students who get an average of three hours of homework per night actually experience more stress, physical health issues and lack of balance in their lives, according to recent research out of Stanford University in California.
And it's something that's happening here in southeast Michigan, too – but starting even earlier than high school.
In fact, Stacy Childs, a life skills teacher at Derby Middle School in Birmingham, says many students have expressed feeling overwhelmed by the amount of homework they receive, which ranges from one-and-a-half to three hours each night.
"Our school district is very competitive," Childs says. "I think they are under a lot of stress where I teach. And not just where I teach – we live in a very competitive society."
Study's findings, homework overload
In an effort to examine the relationship among homework, a student's well-being and behavioral engagement, researchers looked at survey data from 4,317 students from 10 high-performing schools – four public and six private – in upper-middle class neighborhoods. With parent consent, students completed a 40-minute survey during school. Teens were asked about homework load/usefulness, time for other activities, stress and more.
Questions included, "In general, how well does your homework prepare you for tests, papers or projects?" "How often do you worry about school assignments?" and "How often does schoolwork or studying keep you from having time for your family, friends or other activities?" Kids were asked to rate them on a five-point scale, from 1 (never) to 5 (always).
"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," the study notes.
That doesn't surprise Childs, who says many students express feeling anxious about the amount of homework they have, even as early as sixth grade.
"They can't deal with the homework – they are not used to it," Childs says.
Homework is stressful on parents, too, Childs says, because they are balancing their careers and family time – plus, they still have to make dinner, clean the house and more.
So while they may not necessarily have to help their children with their homework, they do have to stay on top of it – and know how much their child has, when it's due, etc.
According to the study, it also impacts the quality and quantity of family time. Your child might be missing Grandpa's birthday because he's too busy trying to juggle school with everything else.
Plus, "These kids are so overscheduled. They are so well-rounded, but they have no free time," Childs says.
Practice is a key part of learning, so homework isn't going anywhere. And there are benefits; they just tend to plateau around the two-hour mark for high schoolers, the study notes.
Still, Childs does have some suggestions on making things a bit easier.
"Have a calendar and a schedule and stick to it," she says, but encourages parents to not overschedule their children.
Designate a quiet spot for your child to do homework – one that is free of distractions. Childs also suggests checking your child's school's website or teacher blogs for upcoming homework and projects.
Finally, if your kid is really struggling with the workload, Childs says it might be time to talk to his or her teacher.
"There might be a reason they have so much homework – wasting class time, struggling with the material – or they may have resources to assist you if your child is truly struggling."