One of the most common difficulties in homes with school age children is dealing with homework. An adolescent male, a junior in high school, slept no more than 12 hours one week due to mid-terms. Parents consulted with me because their child had smashed several glasses due to homework frustration. A young middle school student avoided going to classes because she was having trouble completing assignments due to procrastination. Even for kids who have no learning or executive function complexities, homework has become the crucible for self-worth as children labor over hours of assignments. While the debate about excessive homework has been conducted in this country for many generations, I suspect that the issue with homework isn’t that there is too much of it (although it can appear that way). Rather, I have observed that most kids aren’t engaged enough with generative activities. Children, and especially adolescents, aren’t devoting enough non-competitive time to their bodies, to creative pursuits, or to spending time outside. There is no balancing of the cognitive discipline necessary to intellectual growth with other developmental needs that are emotional, physical and what I call expansionary. A social organization that is out of synch with its own ecology creates children who are out of touch with their own ecosystems. This leads to the massive homework meltdown. One way out of this is to change the way teachers, educators and principals think, like this. Another way is to practice the “more is less” approach to managing kids’ after school hours.
Many kids and especially adolescents believe that they have so much homework that they can’t do anything else. Typically when they are done with their various school activities they return home exhausted and depleted having used the same part of their brain all day long. Too tired to work they procrastinate, often with the assistance of technology – television, computer games, or other digitally inspired media or devices and further tire themselves because these activities deplete rather than rejuvenate. Typically, by the time evening arrives the student is now in a crunch. Anxious and pressed, they sit down for long hours of required homework while fighting the need to give their minds a much needed rest. Like an athlete who mistakenly trains the same group of muscles everyday, kids today become lopsided and fatigued, overworking the same parts of their mind.
What helps? Make sure kids participate in activities that utilize their alternative strengths. Every child possesses a range of abilities. Is your child musically inclined? Or are their abilities physical? Artistic? Or do they love just walking outdoors, playing freely or simply spending time with their imagination? Find something they love and make sure they build in time for this activity every day. They key here is a pursuit about which they feel passionate, not a resume building activity that will one day look good on a college application. When the path to success engulfs an interest, it loses the sense of meaning that connects it to a different sensory pathway.
Spending time on a much loved activity may take up time but it is energizing. It also provides young people a respite from expectations and the pressure to succeed. Every child or adolescent needs some time each day just being who they are, free from constraints. This won’t change the amount of homework, or the system that invests in this particular approach to education. It will, however, communicate to your child that you are on their side and that you believe in their most authentic selves. In this way your kid has you as an ally as they tackle the onerous task of managing the real, complicated, not-always-correct world as it is manifest in the school environment.