Children Suffer Mentally and Physically From Astounding Levels of Homework

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“…students described the amount of homework each night as “overwhelming,” “unmanageable,” or “more than [they] could handle,””

According to new research, too much homework is associated with academic stress, a lack of balance in children’s lives and even physical health problems.

The new study into 4,317 students at 10 high-performing US high schools questions whether the average of 3 hours homework per night is really justified (Galloway et al., 2013).

The researchers asked students about the work they were doing and discovered that:

“Some of the students described the amount of homework each night as “overwhelming,” “unmanageable,” or “more than [they] could handle,” with one describing the load as “an endless barrage of work.””

One student wrote:

“There’s never a time to rest. There’s always something more you should be doing. If I go to bed before 1:30 I feel like I’m slacking off, or just screwing myself over for an even later night later in the week… There’s never a break. Never.”

The knock-on effects of all this homework were felt in both their sleep quality and their health:

“Many complained that the workload led to sleep deprivation and other health problems. Students described homework as the “main reason” preventing them from getting the recommended 9.25 hr of sleep each night.”

This feedback was supported by measures of the amount of homework students did and their well-being and engagement:

“Students who spent more hours on homework tended to be more behaviorally engaged in school, but were simultaneously more stressed about their school work and tended to reportmore physical symptoms due to stress, fewer hours of sleep on school nights, less ability to get enough sleep, and less ability to make time for friends and family.”

But surely all this homework is necessary and important?

Apparently not:

“…students will often do work they see as “pointless,” “useless,” and “mindless” because their grades will be affected if they do not. This kind of busy work, by its very nature, discourages learning and instead promotes doing homework simply to get points.”

All of this doesn’t mean homework should be banned, but 3 hours a night on average? Seriously?

The authors conclude by saying:

“Given the negative outcomes we find associated with more time spent on homework, our study calls into question the desirability of such diligence and the utility of assigning large quantities of homework in high-performing schools.

[...] any homework assigned should have a purpose and benefit, and it should be designed to cultivate learning and development.”

It seems the horrible, wasteful, idiotic culture of pointless ‘busywork’ is alive in well in some high schools.

Image credit: Vic Xia

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Dr Jeremy Dean is a psychologist and the author of PsyBlog. His latest book is "Making Habits, Breaking Habits: How to Make Changes That Stick". You can follow PsyBlog by email, by RSS feed, on Twitter and Google+.

Published: 2 April 2014

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Images: Creative Commons License