Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Are Schools Pushing Our Children to the Limit and Making them Sick?

Is homework causing your child to get sick? This is a question that might result in some eye rolls, but reliable research and surveys conducted in middle-class areas present a pretty convincing case. 

Pressure for children to succeed in both sports and in the classroom has led to a desire, fueled both by parents and teachers, to not only achieve but overachieve. Of course we want our kids to be the best they can be and succeed in everything they do, and having a slightly competitive spirit is not a terrible thing given society’s competitive nature- but are we pushing our kids too far? 

Denise Pope, a senior lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Education and co-author of a study on Experimental Education, says that these days children are doing an average of three hours of homework per night, some less and some up to five hours. The problem has become so severe that some schools even have to place a limit on the amount of homework teachers are allowed to give. High achieving schools are separating kids at younger and younger ages, placing them in advanced classes and honors courses in grade school! 

Pope’s study focused in on upper-middle-class school districts because it is known that affluent families whose children attend privileged schools often do not question how much homework their child is being given and, as you can imagine, parents paying a lot of money for their child to be a student at a particular school expect results. But how is the pressure
privileged schools put on children affecting their health and happiness? To answer this question, Pope conducted a survey of over 4,300 students from 10 high-performance high schools. The results showed that 56% of students felt homework was the primary cause of stress in their lives. These levels of stress due to excessive homework not only affected the happiness of the students, but also their physical well being. The connection was very clear, high levels of stress were causing all kinds of physical problems, including sleep deprivation, weight loss, migraines, stomach aches, and even ulcers. Not to mention the impacts stress had on their mental health as well, causing depression and high levels of anxiety. Although the study was conducted with high school students, Pope also has data that presents the same conclusions with younger students. 

To stretch even beyond just homework, by having these attitudes drilled into student’s heads  at a  young age we are setting ourselves up to raise a self-centered, overly competitive, and“all work no play, winner-takes-all” generation of people. 

So how can we fix the issue and help our children’s mental and physical health while still raising smart, hard working people? Pope says the level of homework that showed the best results is two hours for high schoolers and a maximum of 90 minutes for middle schoolers, as well as finding a balance between sports and time to just relax. And it is up to parents to monitor their child’s health and find a way to teach them responsibility and being a hard worker without going overboard! 

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