Students reading this probably screamed, “Yes!” upon seeing the headline, if not for the simple fact that homework is usually not a favorite pastime for kids. Likewise, I’m sure many parents have hoped this to be true to some extent (and that change would be made from it) so they didn’t have to harass their kids about getting their homework done anymore. Am I right?
Whichever camp you fall into, and maybe you actually enjoy homework (as a parent or a student), this topic has been coming up more and more in recent years.
Is homework bad for kids’ health? It could be.
Unfortunately, the complete answer to this question is not clear-cut. There are a lot of variables at work here. However, we can say, without a doubt, that there are definitely some findings that are cause for concern.
In this post, we will not only talk about what those concerns are, but what you can do (as a parent) to address them and help your child succeed academically, while not compromising their health in the process.
How Is Homework Bad for Kids’ Health?
There are several ways in which homework can negatively affect students’ health. These include:
- Lack of sleep - staying up late trying to complete homework assignments and finish projects
- Stress - feeling the pressure of large amounts of homework and tight deadlines
- Unhealthy eating habits - snacking on junk food during study time or choosing fast food over home-cooked meals as a faster alternative
- Family conflict – usually choosing homework over family time or sleep, or even procrastinating on homework leading to conflict with parents
- Disengagement from school – students who end up with too much homework over a number of years could face burn out and not be interested in trying hard at school anymore.
Can Homework Affect Students’ Teeth?
This may seem like a silly question, but being in the dental industry, it’s something we like to explore. Can too much homework be bad for students’ teeth?
Similar to the previous question (How Is Homework Bad for Kids’ Health?), homework can also negatively affect kids’ dental health in a few different ways:
1. Junk food - those unhealthy foods we mentioned before can be bad for kids’ teeth, especially if they are eaten late at night and kids don’t brush their teeth before bed.
2. Altered sleep schedule – staying up late to get homework done means kids aren’t getting enough sleep, which can lead to some late-night eating.
3. Forgetting to brush teeth at night – Brushing our teeth at night is usually the last thing on our minds after a late night of studying, or, worse, an all-nighter!
Going to sleep later can lead to skipped tooth-brushing time, which can lead to cavities. Kids need to go to bed at a reasonable time so they can floss and brush their teeth before bed.
What Are the Facts: How Much Homework Are Students Being Given?
While the answer to this question is going to vary depending on the school and teacher the student has, a dozen or more research studies have been conducted on this very subject.
The National Education Association (NEA) and the National PTA (NPTA) recommend meeting a standard of 10 minutes of homework per grade level. For first-graders, that means 10 minutes of homework per night, while high school seniors could get two hours of work per night.
The shocking discovery from these studies? Most students who responded to these studies said they received about 3 times the recommended amount of homework for their grade level. Kindergarteners receive 25 minutes of homework per night, on average! According to the NEA and NPTA, they shouldn’t be receiving any homework.
Another study that was done found that high schoolers are doing, on average, a minimum of three hours of homework each night, with some students doing as much as 5 hours!
When you think about the time a student gets home from school (3 or 3:30 in the afternoon) to the time they should be going to bed (10:00), that is only a 6- to 7-hour window. In that amount of time, students need to complete their homework, do household chores, spend time with their family and friends (which is important for their development and growth), eat dinner and get ready for the next day at school–that’s not even including any extracurricular activities he/she might be involved in.
The researchers in this study asked students if they experienced any physical symptoms of stress, like headaches, exhaustion, sleep deprivation, weight loss or stomach problems. More than 80% of students who responded said they had at least one of these symptoms in the past month, and 44% said they had experienced three or more of these stress-related symptoms.
What Did Our Survey Find?
During our 1Dental Scholarship campaign of 2016, we asked applicants to complete a short survey for us about their health habits, slightly adjusted from what we did in 2015 when we asked them about their smoking and drinking habits.
The responses we got indicated that homework does influence some of these habits, which is why you’ll see some of the results listed here.
We had 12,407 high school (54%) and college students (46%) across the United States respond to our survey–68% female and 32% male. The majority of these students came from Texas, California and Florida, with the remainder living throughout the rest of the States.
Students’ Sleeping Habits
More than half of our respondents said that homework was the reason they weren’t getting more sleep.
Students’ Eating and Snacking Habits
While I expected to see more students skipping a meal during the day, our survey found that most students are eating 3 meals a day. Only 26% of those surveyed said they only eat 2 meals a day (most likely skipping breakfast since they are on the go).
Surprisingly, many students who responded to the survey said they eat a home-cooked meal for breakfast (28%), lunch (39%) and dinner (77%). The most common breakfast choice was on-the-go food (yogurt, shakes, protein bars). 41% of students said they ate on-the-go food in the morning. And the second highest lunch choice was cafeteria food (which is most likely coming from our high school respondents). But overwhelmingly, students are eating a home-cooked meal for dinner.
Chips was listed as the second most common snack among students, which wasn’t too surprising. However, the number of students who said they ate fruits and vegetables as a snack is promising. It shows that snacking habits may be improving among youth.
Students’ Family Influence
In our survey, we were also interested to know how students’ parents had influenced their eating and sleeping habits. Here were some of the responses we got.
The responses to this latter question seems to be in line with what students are doing now. However, some of the students responding may still be living at home so they haven’t had a chance to form their own eating and snacking habits.
How have your parents influenced your eating habits?
This is just a small sampling of the open-ended responses we received for this question. The trend seems to be that parents of this generation are more health conscious and passing on their health habits to their children.
Most of the students who responded said their parents tried to provide healthy, home-cooked meals as often as they could and kept the house stocked with healthy snacks like fruit, vegetables, nuts and cheeses.
How did your parents influence your sleeping habits?
The answers we received to this question were especially interesting when considering our post’s topic on homework. A lot of students said they would fight with their parents about going to sleep because they still had homework to do. Their parents would want them to get a good night’s sleep, but they had too much homework to get done.
The Reality of Homework
Much to the dismay of my student readers, I will not be advocating an end to homework. The truth is, teachers cannot cover all of the material needed in the classroom. There may be additional reading and material that needs to be worked through on your own time so you can fully understand and engage with the lessons being taught in the classroom.
So what are parents to do?
As you can see from our survey responses above, parents are trying to help their children understand the importance of healthy habits like eating well and getting plenty of sleep. There is only so much that can be said in light of homework responsibilities children feel they need to complete.
However, limitations do need to be set on how much homework is being given to students and how much can be reasonably expected of them to get done in one evening.
How Much Homework Is Too Much?
As mentioned earlier, there are limitations to how much homework students should be doing, and the sad truth is that most schools across the nation are not abiding by those recommendations.
Here’s a breakdown of homework by the hour by age:
What Steps Can I Take to Help My Child with Their Homework?
Teach them about time management. Based on our survey results, it was sometimes difficult to tell if kids were really getting too much homework and it was taking them a long time to complete their assignments or if the kids were procrastinating and not managing their time well.
Most schools do not teach their students about how to manage their time when it comes to homework, studying and personal activities outside of school. Helping students learn good time management skills could benefit them in a number of ways:
- Better Grades. The work they produce will be better quality and turned in on time.
- More Free Time. They are able to complete their homework earlier so they can enjoy some stress-free activities like watching The Walking Dead or Once Upon a Time and not be subject to some of the negative health effects of too much homework (lack of sleep, unhealthy eating habits, etc.).
- Preparation for a Career. It will prepare them for work later in life when they have to manage multiple projects and tasks and complete them on a strict deadline.
If you’ve tried to help your child with time management and have evaluated how many hours of homework they are actually getting each night and it is still too much, talk to their teacher to see if there is a way to come up with a solution for your family.
How much homework is your child doing each night? Share that with us in the comment section below!