Are Homework Wars a Myth? Debate Continues Among Researchers and Around Kitchen Tables

Do today’s kids have too much homework? The debate rages on, punctuated by two new studies published this week.

homework wars

Credit: Annifer Photography

In one, a Stanford researcher found that more than two hours of homework a night may be counterproductive. The research, conducted among students from 10 high-performing high schools in upper-middle-class California communities, found that too much homework resulted in stress, physical health problems and a general lack of balance.

Then today, the 2014 Brown Center Report on American Education, found that with the exception of nine-year-olds, the amount of homework schools assign has remained relatively unchanged since 1984. What gives? It certainly doesn’t seem that way!

The disparity can be explained in one of the conclusions regarding the Brown Report:

“Of the three age groups, 17-year-olds have the most bifurcated distribution of the homework burden.  They have the largest percentage of kids with no homework (especially when the homework shirkers are added in) and the largest percentage with more than two hours.”

So what does that mean for parents who still endure the homework wars at home?

It means that sometimes kids like ours, who are on a rigorous college-prep track, probably are receiving more homework, but the statistics are melding it with the kids who are receiving no homework.  And from research we’ve done at Tutor.com, 53% of students told us they need help with homework several times a week and that parents can’t help.  This is where the real homework wars lay – not just the amount, but the ability to successfully complete assignments and feel success.

As parents, we need to figure out how to help our children manage their workload and learn the material.

My top four tips for ending the homework wars:

  • Have a routine. Every parenting advice you will ever read emphasizes the importance of a routine. There’s a reason for that: it works. A routine helps put order into your child’s often disorderly world. It removes the thinking and arguing and “when should I start?” because that decision has already been made. While routines must be flexible to accommodate soccer practice on Tuesday and volunteer work on Thursday, knowing in general when and where your child will do homework literally removes half the battle.
  • Help them plan. They look at a mountain of homework and think “insurmountable.” But you can look at it with an outsider’s perspective and help them plan. Put in an extra hour Monday when you don’t have soccer. Prepare for the AP Chem test on Friday a little at a time each evening so Thursday doesn’t loom as a scary study night. Start reading the book for the English report so that it’s underway. Write a few sentences even, so you don’t have a blank page staring at you. Knowing what the week will look like encourages calm.
  • Seek outside help if need be. You can’t outsource the “battle” but you can outsource the help! I find that kids just do better having someone other than their parents help them – if you’re even qualified to, of course! At Tutor.com we specialize in making homework time less stressful. Remember that AP Chem test above? Maybe your child is wrestling with a specific physical or chemical process…an AP Chemistry tutor is available to work one-to-one in an online classroom. It’s like they’re right there, what with the chat feature, interactive whiteboard and the file sharing tool, where teens can share the assignments they are wrestling with.
  • Quit (for the night). A war ends when one person disengages. At some point, once you’ve been the listening ear, the planner-in-chief and the cheerleader, you have to let natural consequences take their course. Whether that results in a poor grade, or missing a sleepover or week of video games is completely up to you. But at some point you have to back down as a warrior and let the chips fall where they may! And removing yourself – and any pressure you may be inadvertently creating – can be just what’s needed!

Any great tips for ending the homework wars?  Share them with us on Facebook!

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