Can too much homework make your child sick? Study finds 'clear connection' between students' stress and physical illness
By Daily Mail Reporter
Published: 16:04 GMT, 21 March 2014 | Updated: 16:04 GMT, 21 March 2014
Doing more than three hours of homework per night may be making your child sick.
A study conducted by Stanford Graduate School of Educationsurveyed more than 4,300 students from ten high-performing public and private high schools in affluent California communities, and found that excessive homework causes high stress levels and physical health problems.
'We found a clear connection between the students' stress and physical impacts -- migraines, ulcers and other stomach problems, sleep deprivation and exhaustion, and weight loss,' co-author of the study, Denise Pope, told CNN.
A study conducted by Stanford Graduate School of Education found that excessive homework causes high stress levels and physical health problems for children
Published in the Journal of Experimental Education, the study found that while three hours of homework per night was 'average' for these students, there were children doing 'way more' - as many as five hours per night.
Fifty-six per cent of the students in the study cited homework as a primary stressor in their lives,
despite the fact that most U.S. students' homework load has remained relatively stable since 1984, according to the Brookings Institute's 2014 Brown Center Report on American Education.
But in privileged schools, where competition among students is fierce and pressure of high academic performance overwhelming, many students describe schoolwork as a dominating force in their lives.
with many parents worried that they had not seen their children for an entire weekend because they were attempting to complete homework assignments.
'We need intervention around homework,' said Ms Pope, adding that it's not just with high school students: 'We have the same data from the younger years.'
'We found a clear connection between the students' stress and physical impacts'
The fact that children growing up in poverty are at-risk for serious disturbances including drug and alcohol abuse, depression and anxiety, is well-supported by research and widely accepted.
But a growing body of research, including Ms Pope's study, reveals that privileged children may also be at risk thanks to the unrelenting pressure placed on them in school.
'When you say that poverty is a risk factor, that doesn't mean that all poor kids are troubled,' explained Suniya S. Luthar, professor of psychology at Arizona State University. 'It's exactly the same for upper-middle-class children of upwardly mobile families.
'All we are saying is that a larger proportion of these children are at risk, as compared to the average American community.'
Ms Pope said the magic number when it comes to homework is 'nothing over two hours' for highs school and 'no more than 90 minutes' in middle school.
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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.