Recently my little sister contacted me for some big sisterly (and professional) advice. My nephew, a bright and active nine year old was battling homework every night. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to do it, but the volume and variance of tasks was overwhelming to manage. A worksheet in math, a project in science, a list of spelling words, and a paragraph to write seem simple to prioritize, but so does getting the kids off to school, getting the groceries, paying the bills, delivering dinner, and supervising homework. The reality of doing is more difficult than drafting the list.
My sister wanted to know how much was too much. Are her instincts correct that the homework load is too much to expect, or is she off the norm and is not demanding enough from her child? Her first stop was the teacher and then the school. Both were willing to discuss but neither appeared willing or able to reduce the homework demand. To my sister, this appeared to be a sacred cow issue despite the two hours it took for the family to accomplish the task. She had to make a decision, continue with the culture’s current demand or stand alone at risk.
My sister chose to adopt the recommendations given by the Department of Education, National Education Association and National Parent Teacher Association of ten minutes of homework per grade level. http://www.nea.org/tools/16938.htm She felt, as the Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting program promotes, that the time limit would be a strong motivator for her son and not make homework a punishment. She and her husband decided to shift their efforts from pressuring him to get the work done to: focusing on positive feedback and goals, reinforcing he do his best, increasing personal meaning and a sense of autonomy by providing choices, and reinforcing the feeling of accomplishment and responsibility.
My sister is making a brave move stepping outside the cultural norm of pressuring her child to achieve at school no matter the cost. I believe her risk will be rewarded in her son and her family’s mental health. The moving film, The Race to Nowhere, http://www.racetonowhere.com/, documents the increase in risk of suicide, depression, and stress related illness in young children today that is directly related to the pressure to achieve. Additionally, not a focus of a film, but a poignant experience in my counseling experience, is the life crisis of the students who have mastered the pressure but do not know where to go once they are out of school. They do not know where to go in life or how to create opportunity despite their exceptional skills. There has to be a better way to achieve growth and success. Setting a time limit on homework is one concrete measure to keep parents and their children from being pulled into the never ending, accelerating competition in the race to nowhere.
Amanda Deverich (view profile below)