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.
Homework is an important part of engaging students outside of the classroom.
It carries educational benefits for all age groups, including time management and organization. Homework also provides students with the ability to think beyond what is taught in class.
The not-so-good news is these benefits only occur when students are engaged and ready to learn. But, the more homework they get, the less they want to engage.
THE NEGATIVE EFFECTS OF HOMEWORK ON STUDENTS
Homework can affect students’ health, social life and grades. The hours logged in class, and the hours logged on schoolwork can lead to students feeling overwhelmed and unmotivated. Navigating the line between developing learning skills and feeling frustrated can be tricky.
Homework is an important part of being successful inside and outside of the classroom, but too much of it can actually have the opposite effect. Students who spend too much time on homework are not always able to meet other needs, like being physically and socially active. Ultimately, the amount of homework a student has can impact a lot more than his or her grades.
Find out how too much homework actually affects students.
How Does Homework Affect Students’ Health?
Homework can affect both students’ physical and mental health. According to a study by Stanford University, 56 per cent of students considered homework a primary source of stress. Too much homework can result in lack of sleep, headaches, exhaustion and weight loss. Excessive homework can also result in poor eating habits, with families choosing fast food as a faster alternative.
How Does Homework Affect Students’ Social Life?
Extracurricular activities and social time gives students a chance to refresh their minds and bodies. But students who have large amounts of homework have less time to spend with their families and friends. This can leave them feeling isolated and without a support system. For older students, balancing homework and part-time work makes it harder to balance school and other tasks. Without time to socialize and relax, students can become increasingly stressed, impacting life at school and at home.
How Does Homework Affect Students’ Grades?
After a full day of learning in class, students can become burnt out if they have too much homework. When this happens, the child may stop completing homework or rely on a parent to assist with homework. As a result, the benefits of homework are lost and grades can start to slip.
Too much homework can also result in less active learning, a type of learning that occurs in context and encourages participation. Active learning promotes the analysis and application of class content in real world settings. Homework does not always provide these opportunities, leading to boredom and a lack of problem-solving skills.
HOW CAN PARENTS HELP?
Being an active part of children’s homework routine is a major part of understanding feelings and of be able to provide the needed support. As parents, you can help your child have a stress-free homework experience. Sticking to a clear and organized homework routine helps children develop better homework habits as they get older. This routine also comes in handy when homework becomes more difficult and time-consuming.
Learn more about the current world of homework, and how you can help your child stay engaged.
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Infographic: How Does Homework Actually Affect Students?
Oct 04, 2016•Homework