Does Homework Cause Stress? [4 Ways You Can Help]
Does homework cause stress? We often discuss stress in relation to adults – the pressures we all face to perform and achieve coupled with the crushing demands on our time. Did you know that 77% of adults in America experience stress that affects their physical health, and 73% have stress that impacts their mental health? Yes, we are all a little stressed out. With so much stress in our adult lives, it’s easy to forget the stressors our children face, and homework is a big one!
Homework Caused Me Stress
As a young girl, I remember sitting at our worn kitchen table surrounded by math papers, crying because I couldn’t understand the homework. I knew I had sealed my fate. I was too stupid to understand math. With an already failing grade and no after-school support, I hopelessly stuffed the papers into my backpack. I tried not to let the overwhelming feeling of failing crush me. I still had homework in three other subjects and dinner to make for my younger siblings. While every part of my perfectionist’s brain wanted to achieve perfect grades, spending hours trying to understand homework wasn’t really an option.
Homework And The Disadvantaged
“My mom is in jail. She tried to burn our house down again. She does that sometimes. She tried to take my brother and me, but the police came to get us back because we can’t live with her anymore.” This was the response I received when I asked one of my first-graders where his homework was.
Homework often highlights educational inequalities. As the American Psychological Association states: “Children from wealthier homes and more affluent areas often have access to more resources. These resources include internet connection, computers, cellphones, dedicated areas to do homework, and parents with more education and time to help with tricky assignments. On the other hand, kids from disadvantaged homes often work after-school jobs or are home without adult supervision due to parents working multiple jobs.”
Children in disadvantaged areas usually head to work after school, care for siblings, or return to an unstable home environment. Adding hours of homework is another item on an already overwhelming list at the end of a long day. Unfortunately, the time and mental and emotional capacity to complete homework is a luxury many don’t have.
In addition to the logistical issues, homework impacts physical health and stress. Again, homework more significantly affects economically disadvantaged students who have higher stress levels than peers from more financially stable families.
Homework And The Affluent
“There’s debate club, STEM club, language club, piano lessons, and I need to add in a sport too and community service – what can I do for community service? Colleges really want to make sure you’re well-rounded!” Then she burst into tears. The demands of hours of nightly homework and the desire for perfect grades to equate to a perfect future were too much. I quickly realized my daughter was drowning in expectations.
It is not just disadvantaged students who suffer from the stressors that homework creates. In 2014 CNN wrote an article discussing the extreme pressure placed on the children of the affluent. The article discussed the results of a study conducted by Stanford University. The study surveyed over 4,300 students. These students attended ten high-performing public and private high schools in upper-middle-class California communities.
The research showed that students from high-achieving, high-income communities experience physical health problems associated with stress. In addition, they experienced an imbalance in their lives and social alienation due to spending too much time on homework. 56% of participants cited homework as a primary stressor in their lives. The remaining 46% of students noted that pressure to get good grades and tests were the primary stressors. Less than 1% of the students said homework was not a stressor.
In addition, researchers found that excessive homework means students cannot meet other needs. Usually, developmental needs and time to cultivate other critical life skills fall to the side. Often, students will give up other things to make time for homework. For example, students will give up hobbies, extracurricular activities, and time with family and friends. Heavy homework loads often equal other stress-related health issues.
The Balance Of Homework: How Much Homework Is Too Much?
With anything, when in balance, homework can provide many benefits to students. Homework is an important part of the education process. Through doing homework, students can spend more time focusing on the material taught in class in further detail. This enables students to develop a mastery of the material through practical applications of the lesson. In addition, homework can help students develop soft skills like organization and time management. These are skills we all benefit from long after high-school graduation. However, just like with adults, when your to-do list piles up, students can find themselves becoming more and more overwhelmed and less and less engaged. This leads us to wonder how much homework students should do.
The National Parent Teacher Association, in partnership with the National Education Association, recommends students only spend 10 minutes a night on homework assignments per grade level. This means that second graders should spend 20 minutes on homework and third graders 30 minutes. Unfortunately, a study published by the American Journal of Family Therapy showed that students actually receive much more homework than the 10-minutes a day.
In addition, a study conducted by the OECD discovered that spending more than four hours on homework each week has a negligible impact on performance. Therefore, helping your child find balance with the time spent on homework is key to helping reduce homework-related stress.
How Can Parents Help?
As a parent, you have little control over what your child’s teacher decides to assign. We know feeling powerless over your child’s workload can be frustrating. However, there are several ways you can support your child and ease their stress.
1. Monitor, Don’t Correct
Homework is ultimately your child’s responsibility. So you should try to ensure your child is on track and has access to the resources they need to succeed when stuck. Advocate for your child and help them develop the skills to advocate for themselves if they struggle to understand the material.
Remind your student that we all learn at different paces, and that’s okay.
2. Create A Routine
A clear and organized after-school schedule and routine can help your student create and stick to healthy homework habits. Help your child set a time to start and stop working on homework – regardless of how much homework remains. Please encourage your children to find balance in their life and remind them that there is always more to do tomorrow and more time to do it. Once your child stops working, remind them to release it from their minds and enjoy focusing on other tasks and activities.
3. Communicate With Educators
Always communicate with your child’s teachers about your homework concerns. This demonstrates to your child that you care about their education, workload, and stress levels. You want your children to know you’re a stakeholder in their education and their futures.
4. Provide Support
Remember, homework stresses are common, and chances are they will arise for your child occasionally.
If you find that homework stressors are a regular part of life and impact your child’s quality of life, it may be time to take your child to receive extra help. Finding support to provide healthy coping mechanisms for stress is an excellent option. Removing all stressors from your child’s life is impossible, but giving them the tools to create healthy habits for the rest of their lives is possible.
Let’s Talk About It!
While homework has negatives and positives, we lose the benefits of homework when students become overwhelmed. As a result, it’s important to have candid conversations with your children about how homework, school pressure, and even pressure they feel from you to perform are impacting their mental health. As always, the Racing for Mental Health team would love to hear more about your parenting or educator journey. So comment below or reach out to us today.