Parenting

The toxic problem of too much homework.

We’re in to October and autumn (fall), past the autumnal equinox and so days become shorter, nights longer and for the majority of parents our children have been back in school for a month now. In the month that my children have been back in school I have completed more homework than I ever did in my days as a student. There have been more tears and tantrums in our home over that month than we have had during the past year. My children are enthusiastic learners, and high achievers. But night by night I’m watching their homework crush their spirit. It’s also starting to crush mine as I’ve been unable to meet my own deadlines or study for my own academic advancement. Our story is sadly all too common.

 

A 2013 study by Galloway, Conner and Pope of 4300 middle-class American high school students found that the average homework per evening exceeds 3 hours. This significantly contradicts the ’10 minute rule’ which suggests that 10 minutes per evening per grade (so 10 minutes in 1st grade, up to 120 minutes in 12th grade). The situation in my household in 2017 middle-class England matches this finding, and anecdotally friends are reporting the same experience. The study sought to explore the relationship between homework, its qualities as a stressor and the implications on student well-being and academic engagement. A crude summary of the findings is troubling with a clear connection between homework stress and physical mannifestations such as migraine, stomach ulcers, sleep deprivation and exhaustion. 80% of students reported suffering at least one physical symptom of stress, 44% of students reported as many as three symptoms and 56% of the students in the study cited homework as their primary stressor.

 

A 2015 study of 1100 children by Pressman et al established that almost all participants reported volume of homework which exceeds the 10 minute rule, and 2012 study by Maltese, Tai, and Fan suggests that homework prior to high school has little or no impact on academic achievement, and in high-school the impact that it does have is a minor increase on SAT scores (There is a discussion to be had about this, but I’ll save that for another day). While the benefits of homework seem to be less significant than many of us believe the same cannot be said of the impacts reported by these three studies, which include emotional and psychological implications, family stress and arguments, detrimental impacts on the self confidence of parents who struggle to help their children with homework (researchers report a 200% increase in disharmony and homework stress when a parent does not hold a degree). There’s also an implication that too much homework denigrates quality family time and routine, affecting meals and the time spent on family recreation. Our experience certainly reflects this, having cancelled three planned outings in a month to support our children with their homework.

 

If you’re reading this and nodding you’re head you’re probably also wondering “how do I know whether my child is suffering homework stress?” and that is a very good question. There are many ways that your child may discretely demonstrate that they are feeling the pressure of too much homework.

 

1. A change in their attitude to homework and school is one big red flag. This might include such things as ; 

  • Putting off doing homework until the last minute, often not leaving enough time to finish it or having to get up early to complete it before school.
  • Trying to get out of going to school.
  • Complaining of feeling unprepared for their classes.
  • Forgetting to hand in assignments or simply cannot keep up with them.
  • Forgetting to bring homework home.
  • Negativity about the subject, the teacher or the homework.
  • Truanting.A drop in academic performance.

 

2. Apparent changes in their academic maturity and independence.

  • Rejecting of offers of help that they would previously have accepted.
  • Asking for help without trying independently.
  • Asking for help despite being able to understand and complete the homework independently.
  • Counting on you to make corrections for them.

 

3. A self directed change of routine.

  • Getting up early to do homework before school.
  • Going to bed late because of homework.
  • Trouble sleeping after doing homework.
  • Sudden onset of trouble waking up in the morning. (Though puberty can often cause this).
  • Dropping clubs which they enjoy specifically because of a lack of time.
  • Being unable to complete homework because they attend a club.

 

4. A change in their relationships with others.

  • Closing down or becoming defensive when asked about homework.
  • Arguing over homework.
  • An increase in irritability and arguing.
  • Yelling at others who are helping with their homework.
  • No longer socialing with friends. 
  • A decrease in affectionate contact with loved ones.

 

5. Declining self esteem.

  • Complaining of headaches or other physical pains during homework time.
  • Crying about homework.
  • Worrying about the consequences of turning in substandard homework, or missing deadlines set.
  • Contrasting themselves with others in a detrimental fashion.
  • An increase in negative perceptions of themselves, for example referring to themselves as stupid.

 

Establishing whether or not your child is battling homework stress and it’s associated impacts is a significant part of the battle. But what can you do to help resolve it? After all, it can often feel overwhelming and difficult discussing an issue like this with your child’s school, especially if you are fighting against a school-wide policy. There are two important points to remember when approaching your school about important issues. Firstly, as a parent you have both a duty and a right to protect your child’s emotional and psychological health and secondly the school have a legal duty to do the same. Quite honestly most teachers and school administrations want to work with you to do the same.

 

The key to opening and maintaining any form of uncomfortable communication with school is

  • to remain calm,
  • to remain dignified,
  • and to approach the other party with respect,

 

  • Frame your discussion as a mutual effort to find a balance between your child’s well-being, their academic achievement and their perception of school.

 

  • It may be worth printing a copy of the list above, and highlighting the symptoms that your child is exhibiting so that your child’s teacher understands that you’ve been watching the situation carefully prior to the visit.

 

  • Take a list of your concerns in with you so that you don’t feel flustered or forget things.

 

  • Take a formal letter in to your meeting, make sure it is dated, list your concerns as politely but efficiently as possible and request that a copy of the letter is entered onto your child’s file.

 

  • Ask your child’s teacher what you can do to support your child and the school in finding the solution to the problem.

 

  • Offer your own suggestions of what you would like to see and be willing to compromise.

 

  • You may have to try a range of options, and a phased plan to change things over time.

 

  • At the end of your meeting with the teacher schedule a follow up for 2 weeks time and follow up your meeting with another formal letter outlining the agreed upon measures, and ask again for it to be entered onto your child’s academic record.

But school is only part of the story. There are countless studies which focus on the entire spectrum of child development, and it’s diverse experiences and trauma. The common theme uniting them all is the finding that with authoritative, attentive, and authentic parenting children can cope and come through almost any childhood trauma. This means that you are of fundamental importance to your child’s well-being if they are experiencing homework overload, and there is a lot that you can do to help your child through.

 

  • Talk to your child on a ‘horizontal level’, metaphorically speaking. When a human being feels talked at, or talked down to they naturally close themselves off. If you can develop the habit of talking to your child with the same respect that you would talk to another adult with it can only serve to enhance your communication. Be clear with your child from the outset, explain that there are certain necessities in the homework equation, that it must be done and it must be handed in as requested. Outline your expectations clearly, but listen to your child’s thoughts and feelings on the matter and be willing to explain your expectations and even negotiate a little.

 

  • Back off a little. Wait? What?! But I just told you that you are of fundamental importance didn’t I? I appreciate that this advice may seem very contradictory, but hear me out. Many parents make the mistake of setting the rules around homework. But often when a parent dictates a child’s homework routine it becomes a point of conflict. By allowing your child to take control of the when, where and how homework is done (within reason of course) you will diffuse the row before it happens. This is an instant reduction in stress for both you and your child. The autonomy of setting their own homework routine will allow your child to develop a little more confidence too.

 

  • Help your child to develop good homework practices so that homework becomes part of a routine, rather than a disruptive element to everyone’s day. Ways to do this include creating a homework schedule so that everybody knows when homework time is. Use a homework timer to keep the easily distracted child focused in order to beat the beeps, check up with your child frequently to see how they’re getting on and check in with your child’s class teacher in order to address any concerns as they arise.

 

  • Remind your child frequently that their teachers are there to help them. It is very easy for a child to lose sight of what a teachers role is, and often results in a child feeling disliked, or picked on. It is really important that you remind your child that their teacher wants to see them achieve their potential. If your child has the confidence to approach their teacher for support and understanding it can only be a good thing.

 

  • Most importantly, resist the urge to do your child’s homework for them, but make sure that they know that you’re on hand if they need help with the content of their homework, or a little emotional support and reassurance if they’re feeling under confident or overwhelmed.

 

As much as I would love to promise that I’ve provided a sure fire set of solutions here, it is worth highlighting that every child is different. They will respond to homework differently, and they will respond to the solutions I’ve offered here differently too. The great thing about the bullet pointed guidance contained in this article is that you can pick and choose what works for you and your child. I’d love to hear from you in the comments section if you’ve overcome homework problems, or if you’ve found the advice in this article useful.

Dorne Warner

I'm a freelancer with a diverse range of professional experience and a passionate interest in the human experience. I've spent 20 years working across a range of communicative platforms and online communities. My absolute favourite was 7 years in a voluntary capacity with iVillage UK. In this role, I was able to break the constraints of contracted work and discovered a passion for connecting with service users in order to feedback to HQ. This role generated a depth of understanding of the client experience from which the management was able to improve their service. I refer to this as my favourite because although voluntary iVillage UK helped me to find my speciality and develop my professional skill set. I currently manage an osteopathic practice. By implementing the deeper level of client understanding I have successfully enhanced the treatment experience, dispelled patient anxiety, and shortened prescription lengths. This enhanced service has improved client return rates and word of mouth recommendations. I've also successfully enhanced staff experience. Happy staff are integral to achieving happy clients. My strengths include safeguarding and risk assessment. At a personal level, I am highly motivated and self-critical. I strive to improve myself in order to deliver better results for my employers. My colleagues describe me as intuitive, supportive, and 'useful to have around'. I thrive in positions in which I can support others. I also thrive while self-improving. I remain a student with the open university, with whom I studied for my BSc (Hons) Psychology & am reading an MSc path with. I thrive in support roles. I am freelancing and available for ghostwriting, project management, short-format feature articles and charity work.
  • Debs Conway

    I totally agree that homework is far too much, it makes you wonder how much is actually being taught in school, is this a by product of increasing budget cuts to resources and staff alike?!

    • Dee Warner

      The philosophy behind homework used to be that it provided the teacher and the student with an idea of the students real capabilities as outside of the structured environment the child has to access and engage with their learning without qualified support or peer support to carry them. Given the climate of teaching to test that a certain sect of out-of-touch non-teachers have forced upon teachers and pupils alike there is potentially a strong link between homework and the change to SATs & Final Exams. Given the pressure that austerity in England, and cuts across the westernised world has put families under, there is a massive disconnect between the out of school resources that a child needs and those which are available.

      Your point about the increasing budget cuts is a very valid and interesting one worthy of some further investigation. I’ll have a look into this I think as it’s piqued my interest.

  • Dave Baker

    Hear, hear.

  • Vicky Rose

    Totally agree. My children aren’t at this stage yet, but it explains a lot about my own high school experience. Good to keep an eye on in future years as my children progress

    • Dee Warner

      A crucial difference now is that we’re somewhat more confident in approaching our children’s teachers. If any element of your child’s school life concerns you then it’s perfectly acceptable to question it. The majority of teachers are keen to work with parents to support children in achieving their best.

      I hope that history doesn’t repeat itself with your children and that you are able to enjoy helping with high school homework in the future. Psssst, don’t tell a teacher, but some of it is quite fun.

  • Can Dee get an Amen? This is so accurate!

  • Kaitlyn Lo

    Hmm, interesting. While I certainly remember experiencing stress due to a large workload at school (at least 4 hours every day with multiple project deadlines a week), I am grateful for the amount of work I was made to do outside of class. It made me understand concepts much more thoroughly, and gave me a lot of practice in applying those concepts, I think. Maybe the educational system is different for every school and country, so my experience may not be the norm.