From kindergarten to the final years of high school, recent research suggests that some students are getting excessive amounts of homework.
In turn, when students are pushed to handle a workload that’s out of sync with their development level, it can lead to significant stress — for children and their parents.
Both the National Education Association (NEA) and the National PTA (NPTA) support a standard of “10 minutes of homework per grade level” and setting a general limit on after-school studying.
For kids in first grade, that means 10 minutes a night, while high school seniors could get two hours of work per night.
But the most recent study to examine the issue found that kids in early elementary school received about three times the amount of recommended homework.
Published in The American Journal of Family Therapy, the 2015 study surveyed more than 1,100 parents in Rhode Island with school-age children.
The researchers found that first and second graders received 28 and 29 minutes of homework per night.
Kindergarteners received 25 minutes of homework per night, on average. But according to the standards set by the NEA and NPTA, they shouldn’t receive any at all.
A contributing editor of the study, Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman, told CNN that she found it “absolutely shocking” to learn that kindergarteners had that much homework.
And all those extra assignments may lead to family stress, especially when parents with limited education aren’t confident in their ability to help kids with the work.
The researchers reported that family fights about homework were 200 percent more likely when parents didn’t have a college degree.
Some parents, in fact, have decided to opt out of the whole thing. The Washington Post reported in 2016 that some parents have just instructed their younger children not to do their homework assignments.
They report the no-homework policy has taken the stress out of their afternoons and evenings. In addition, it's been easier for their children to participate in after-school activities.
This new parental directive may be healthier for children, too.
Experts say there may be real downsides for young kids who are pushed to do more homework than the “10 minutes per grade” standard.
“The data shows that homework over this level is not only not beneficial to children’s grades or GPA, but there’s really a plethora of evidence that it’s detrimental to their attitude about school, their grades, their self-confidence, their social skills, and their quality of life,” Donaldson-Pressman told CNN.
Read more: Less math and science homework beneficial to middle school students »
Consequences for high school students
Other studies have found that high school students may also be overburdened with homework — so much that it’s taking a toll on their health.
In 2013, research conducted at Stanford University found that students in high-achieving communities who spend too much time on homework experience more stress, physical health problems, a lack of balance in their lives, and alienation from society.
That study, published in The Journal of Experimental Education, suggested that any more than two hours of homework per night is counterproductive.
However, students who participated in the study reported doing slightly more than three hours of homework each night, on average.
To conduct the study, researchers surveyed more than 4,300 students at 10 high-performing high schools in upper middle-class California communities. They also interviewed students about their views on homework.
When it came to stress, more than 70 percent of students said they were “often or always stressed over schoolwork,” with 56 percent listing homework as a primary stressor. Less than 1 percent of the students said homework was not a stressor.
The researchers asked students whether they experienced physical symptoms of stress, such as headaches, exhaustion, sleep deprivation, weight loss, and stomach problems.
More than 80 percent of students reported having at least one stress-related symptom in the past month, and 44 percent said they had experienced three or more symptoms.
The researchers also found that spending too much time on homework meant that students were not meeting their developmental needs or cultivating other critical life skills. Students were more likely to forgo activities, stop seeing friends or family, and not participate in hobbies.
Many students felt forced or obligated to choose homework over developing other talents or skills.
"Our findings on the effects of homework challenge the traditional assumption that homework is inherently good," said Denise Pope, Ph.D., a senior lecturer at the Stanford University School of Education, and a co-author of a study.
Read more: Should schools screen children for mental health problems? »
Working as hard as adults
A smaller New York University study published last year noted similar findings.
It focused more broadly on how students at elite private high schools cope with the combined pressures of school work, college applications, extracurricular activities, and parents’ expectations.
That study, which appeared in Frontiers in Psychology, noted serious health effects for high schoolers, such as chronic stress, emotional exhaustion, and alcohol and drug use.
The research involved a series of interviews with students, teachers, and administrators, as well as a survey of a total of 128 juniors from two private high schools.
About half of the students said they received at least three hours of homework per night. They also faced pressure to take college-level classes and excel in activities outside of school.
Many students felt they were being asked to work as hard as adults, and noted that their workload seemed inappropriate for their development level. They reported having little time for relaxing or creative activities.
More than two-thirds of students said they used alcohol and drugs, primarily marijuana, to cope with stress.
The researchers expressed concern that students at high-pressure high schools can get burned out before they even get to college.
“School, homework, extracurricular activities, sleep, repeat — that’s what it can be for some of these students,” said Noelle Leonard, Ph.D., a senior research scientist at the New York University College of Nursing, and lead study author, in a press release.
Read more: Lack of mental healthcare for children reaches ‘crisis’ level »
What can be done?
Experts continue to debate the benefits and drawbacks of homework.
But according to an article published this year in Monitor on Psychology, there’s one thing they agree on: the quality of homework assignments matters.
In the Stanford study, many students said that they often did homework they saw as "pointless" or "mindless."
Pope, who co-authored that study, argued that homework assignments should have a purpose and benefit, and should be designed to cultivate learning and development.
It’s also important for schools and teachers to stick to the 10-minutes per grade standard.
In an interview with Monitor on Psychology, Pope pointed out that students can learn challenging skills even when less homework is assigned.
Pope described one teacher she worked with who taught advanced placement biology, and experimented by dramatically cutting down homework assignments. First the teacher cut homework by a third, and then cut the assignments in half.
The students’ test scores didn’t change.
“You can have a rigorous course and not have a crazy homework load,” Pope said.
Editor’s Note: The story was originally published on March 11, 2014. It was updated by Jenna Flannigan on August 11, 2016 and then updated again on April 11, 2017 by David Mills.
Children today experience a much faster pace than children experienced even a few generations ago. One of the most commonly cited stressors for children is homework, but does homework cause stress in children or are we just babying them? If homework is a stressor, how can parents help their children handle it?
Does Homework Cause Stress in Children?
Unfortunately, the answer to this question is – yes.
The age where homework starts to stress children out is becoming lower; some children even reporting concerning levels of stress due to homework in early elementary school!
There are many reasons for this trend, but one of the most common one is the amount of information children are expected to learn is increasing in complexity, and the rate they are expected to learn it is either remain the same or decreasing.
For elementary schools, the shortened recess time puts more pressure on children without allowing them the time to work out their energy and digest what they have learned. This increased pressure is brought home and makes completing homework assignments a difficult task and very stressful for children.
Middle and high schools continue the tough academic pressures. Larger class sizes, shorter break times and strong pressures to perform well on standardized tests all place students under large amounts of stress.
All of these factors make completing homework assignments a dubious task.
In this setting a student who has questions on various parts of the lesson will have a much harder time getting that personal attention to answer their question, which in turn leads to hours of frustration while trying to complete the homework assignment or an incomplete homework.
What Does Research Say?
According to research conducted by Education scholar, Denise Pope, excessive homework is definitely associated with increase in stress levels. In addition, Pope found that excessive homework creates a lack of balance in children’s lives and can cause various health problems like headaches, ulcers, sleep deprivation and weight loss to name a few.
Homework today which can on some days exceed 3 to 4 hours can negatively affect a child’s sleep cycle. Instead of getting 8 to 9 hours of sleep which is recommended, children end up getting 5 to 6 hours of sleep which in itself contributes to increase in stress.
Add to this the fact that more homework equates less time spent outside playing or in other words, low physical activity which again leads to accumulation of stress in the body.
It’s no wonder that more than half the students surveyed in the study done by ‘Denise Pope’ cited homework to be a primary stressor in their lives.
Another research indicates that students miss out on developing important life skills and their social life suffers as they don’t find time to pursue hobbies they enjoy, for outdoor activities or to even meet friends or family.
This cuts down on the student’s creativity and readies their mind up for mechanical work.
Research done by Duke University psychology professor, Harris Cooper indicates that there also is a positive side to homework. His study found that students who did homework did better in school in terms of academic achievements. In addition to that, he also found that homework tends to increase positive traits like self discipline, inquisitiveness, positive attitude towards schooling and independent problem solving skills.
But along with the positives, Cooper also found a host of negatives associated with excessive homework. These included physical and mental fatigue, lack of leisure time and generation of negative attitudes towards learning.
How Can Parents Help?
Parents don’t have to just sit on the sideline and watch their children deal with the stress of homework.
One of the best things parents can do for their children is listen to them and ask questions without judging the answer. Many children are afraid to admit to feeling overwhelmed with homework because they feel like they will be treated as if they are lazy failures.
While every parent wants their child to achieve to the best of their ability, it is important to be willing to reduce those pressures if your child beings to act overwhelmed in homework.
Understanding that your child is stressed by homework doesn’t mean that you have to allow them to not try. Often times homework causes stress because they don’t understand a certain concept.
Find out what about the homework causes your child stress.
Perhaps it is the amount, or perhaps it the content, whatever it is, you cannot help if you don’t try to understand.
While many children do well with less organized extra-curricular activities, it is very important to maintain one or two to keep balance in their lives. Instead of dropping all other activities to focus on homework, it would be more beneficial to help your child enhance their time management skills.
Work with your child to create a schedule for getting homework done on time. Review the plan every few weeks to make any appropriate modifications.
Thankfully more schools are working to regulate the amount of homework given to help ease the stresses it causes on students.
However there will always be children who feel highly stressed by homework. For any child who feels stressed from homework, work with them to discover the root reason behind all their stress and work with them to handle it in a healthy manner.
I have two goals every day, learn something new and write. If I have done that much, then it has been a good day. I have been a fitness instructor for 12 years and enjoy helping others discover the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. I like to learn at least a little about everything with my current focus being on wild foods, crafting, yoga and travel.