Teenagers Drastically Need More Downtime

The Philadelphia Inquirer ran an article this week by Dr. Daniel Gottlieb, a clinical psychologist, family therapist, and author of, among other things, Letters to Sam: A Grandfather’s Lessons on Love, Loss, and the Gifts of Life. I was excited to read Dr. Gottlieb’s article because he talks about what students themselves can do to deal with the homework problem. Only days earlier, I’d been asked by Teen Vogue what teens can do. It’s unfortunate that we don’t hear very much from students, since they’re the people most affected by homework and education policies. (On this blog, I’ve posted a poem by a teenager and a few students have left comments, but I’d love to have more entries by students. So spread the word.)

I asked Dr. Gottlieb whether I could post his article and he graciously told me I could. I hope you like it as much as I did.

Inside Out | Teenagers Drastically Need More Downtime
By Dan Gottlieb

To all adolescents,

You need more time.

Ninety percent of the high school students I speak with say they are under great stress. Most of it is time-related, and much of that is a combination of too much homework and too little sleep. You need time to sleep (physicians say nine hours a night at your age), to read whatever you want to read, to dream about your future, to just hang out. You and I are not the only ones who know this. A new study by local pediatrician Kenneth Ginsburg demonstrates how important unstructured play (a.k.a. hanging out) is for children’s development. The same is true for adolescents.

Free time fosters creativity and emotional development. It gives you the opportunity to deepen relationships and learn about yourself. Without free time, I worry that you could grow into adulthood valuing yourself more for your performance than for your humanity – therefore putting yourself at greater risk of self-absorption, depression and anxiety disorders.

Mental health professionals all over the country are concerned, but nothing seems to change. Perhaps, in talking to adults, we’ve been addressing the wrong people.

So, how can you create more time? Let’s start with homework. The three to four hours a night I’m told is typical is way too much. Many well-respected educators say students should be assigned about 10 minutes of homework per grade (20 minutes in second grade, etc.).

For seniors in high school, that means two hours or so a night. Harris M. Cooper, a psychology professor at Duke University and author of The Battle Over Homework, agrees; so does the National Parent Teacher Association. In their new book, The Case Against Homework, Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish find no evidence that homework helps elementary school students at all. And the U.S. Department of Education has said elementary students should be given a maximum of five math problems a night. Yet many children are sent home with dozens of math problems and words to memorize.

Convinced? Here’s what you can do about it:

At each school, form a committee to deal with this issue. Check at least one of the above books out of the library and start gathering evidence for your argument.

Have every student on the committee document how much time he or she is spending on each subject – and tell each teacher how much time it all adds up to. Many teachers may not be aware of how much homework you get from other teachers.

Try to get parents on your committee. I know many parents resent all the homework because it virtually eliminates precious family time. But parents should not take the lead in this project. They should be there to support you because this is your project, not theirs.

Set up a meeting with school administrators. Show them your data. Ask them for evidence of the benefits provided by this amount of homework. Perhaps you could begin a dialogue about how much homework is reasonable and relevant – and how it could be coordinated among teachers.

Ask administrators if they would designate a “homework coordinator” so students are not buried by multiple large assignments.

If you believe you are not being heard, try getting more parents to join your committee, and then bring them – and your argument – to the PTA.

Finally, keep me posted on your successes and failures so we can continue the discussion.

Any good education teaches you how to navigate your way in life. If, when you graduate, you see injustice in the world, I hope you will feel a sense of responsibility backed by the power to do something about it.

Begin now. If you believe your homework assignments are unjust, do something about them. Do it for yourself, for your future, and for the younger children behind you. You might end up changing the culture.

443 thoughts on “Teenagers Drastically Need More Downtime

  1. I always wake up at two in the morning just to get HW done! My parents even let me skip school on some days just to get things done.

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  2. I stay up from 4:30 to sometimes 10:00 I hate it and, it’s is too much stress and im only 14! I hate this so much! I can’t take it anymore we need to stop this bs

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  3. I used to be a star basketball player. I was the point guard for my team and was loving life. During all of middle school, I was taking the GT advanced placements classes. To me, they were easy, I even received the Academic Science Award. That all changed when High School started. I am taking AP classes and 10th grade classes as a freshman and no longer have time for basketball. I dropped out of my team to focus on studies. I have a friend, who is taking the same classes I am, but he didn’t drop soccer, and barely scraping by in classes due his lack of time. Committing multiple hours everyday to sports while receiving copious amount of homework is impossible to balance unless he stays up till 2am only to wake up again at 6 (for practice). I have spent nights, of literally no sleeping as a high school freshman. This is wrong. Straight up wrong. College students shouldn’t even have to go through this. Don’t even get me started on homework during break, its a break, not home-school.

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  4. What I read in this article is surprising to me. I am given at least 3 hours of homework and I’m often at the point of tears because of it. I usually stay up late because of homework and I find myself dozing off in class because of how tired I am from the lack of sleep. But the worst part about it is that our teachers know this and so do our parents, but they don’t do anything.
    Thank you for this.

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  5. I really hope someone does something to decrease the amount of homework because many people my age are getting too stressed causing mental and physical problems. Homework normally takes me from 3 to 9 at night and sometimes it could take until 11 or 12! Sometimes i don’t eat, drink, or exercise enough because school rules my life!!! Hearing how others feel this way too so it makes me feel better but I really hope something gets done about this.

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  6. I really agree with this. Right now, I still have 2 huge math sheets to do (couldn’t get in done during class because of STANDARDIZED TESTING. Homework? Of COURSE.) I have a project due tomorrow with a lot of work to be done, a test or two tomorrow, and lots of homework for classes. I’m in 7th grade. 5 math problems would be lovely.

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  7. I agree, I get home at 4:30 and do homework until 11:00 with no breaks except for dinner for about minutes, it is really stressing me out.

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  8. I agree, I get home at 4:30 and do homework until 11:00 with no breaks except for dinner for about 30 minutes, it is really stressing me out.

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  9. There was once a time when I enjoyed school… When was that? Oh yeah, like kindergarten, first grade, and second grade, when we hardly got any homework.
    I really don’t learn anything at all from homework. I actually learn much more from extracurricular activities, such as sports, knowledge competitions, clubs, and other activities that I actually enjoy. The sad thing is, with the large amount of homework I receive, it’s very hard to me to participate in the things I love, like the items I mentioned above.
    Plus, I used to LOVE to read, but now I don’t anymore just because of the fact that I don’t have any time to do so, and the only books I end up reading are the (boring) books we have to read for classes, which, therefore, virtually destroyed the love of reading I once had.
    My sister is in sixth grade and still enjoys reading, but then again, she has much more free time than I do!

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  10. I’m so glad that I get to have study room this year, because year 11 seems like it has a lot of work involved.

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  11. I’m glad that people are actually trying to put a stop to the endless homework. I am currently writing this at 12:30 in the morning trying to finish a massive essay. I have a test every day this week and several major projects and essays. My grades have dropped and I now have no free time. School and homework is controlling my life. Unfortunately no one at my school listens to me so there is nothing that I can do. Each teacher thinks that their class is the priority and if I forget one assignment I am punished and have to do a massive amount of extra work and I have to stay after school. On top of all of this I have sports and now my social life is falling apart. I used to have tons of good friends and we would always hang out but now I only have a few that I barely get to see. Homework ruins our lives!!!

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  12. Homework is terrible. It only makes me do worse in school. When I am up till 2 in the morning doing homework, I don’t have any time to study for tests. So I end up doing poorly on tests and my grade goes down. My school is insanely hard and has a very harsh grading system. An A for me is around a C or B at most schools, and everyone at our school is expected to get A’s. The senior year of my school is supposed to be harder than most collages. And I’m only a freshman so I have a lot to look forward to 😦 The only people I know who have a social life and have fun are people who don’t try and do terribly in school. And I am a slow worker so I put in twice as much work as many students and people say that I’m not trying or that I should try harder. Tonight I’ve had nine hours of homework due to multiple essays and tests. Homework is ruining my life and there is nothing I can do.

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  13. I am I high school student in England and I am one of those annoying people who does everything last minute and I can’t seem to get away from it but I am really getting stressed over it and I really need to stop it. The problem is with this is I end up doing really large assignment the night before and stay up to early morning trying to do it as I have to practice my violin in the morning therefore giving me no time to do it in the morning and this really seems to be heading towards health problems now so I really support your argument. Thanks 😀

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  14. I am SOOO relieved to hear that I’m not the only one suffering
    From the the insane injustice of homework bestowed upon us by the school board. I am currently working on my 2 math packets and I haven’t even started on my ELA vocab homework not to mention the 3 History projects and if you don’t think that is a lot then consider the fact that I have ADHD. Did I mention that was just tonight’s homework? Due to Boy Scouts I have not had a significant amount of time to do homework. So now, along with the above I also have a five paragraph essay on the assassination of the arch duke Ferdinand and I have to color and label the parts of the respiratory system and digestive system and a whole list of other assignments all due at the end of this week and more to come! I am on the verge of hyperventillating which is not good when you have athsma. There was a time when kids enjoyed school, but now, due to the ignorance of the school board, ALL OF LIFE IS RUINED! I am of the very artistic type and ideas came naturally however now I can’t even find the square route of 165×3.1415926535! Though I have recently designed a car that creates its own energy and also a dosing of the worlds next potential super weapon and according to all my research done over summer break, both should work. But that’s not the point, my point is that if all the countries combined could squash ISIS like a grape then if we team up we should at least lead the Education system in the right direction if not fix it completely. But since none of the countries are willing to join forces it will be a lot harder to destroy ISIS and if we don’t band together we could be squashed like a grape too or would you rather have that happen to homework?
    I may not be Einstein, but one thing is for sure…
    …IT IS TIME TO START THE REVOLUTION!!
    ARE YOU WITH ME!!!!!!?????!!!!!!

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  15. I have been doing all I possibly can to persuade my school to rethink their methods I have even put sticky notes on walls to tell people to come together and discuss what we could do for our cause but no luck yet.(I think the administration secretly takes them down before anyone can really get a good look at it.) and since we don’t have internet at our school (our administration are jerks!) I cannot privately contact my fellow students.

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  16. I honestly think that the school system overloads us on purpose;
    So that we wouldn’t have time to fight back and stoke out on our own!????

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  17. I think having h.w makes life more stressful 4 people and there will be more suicides because it stresses people out and makes them hate life.

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  18. Just tonight I got home and immediatly started work at around 4 I am about to START my last assignment…This assignment is a math packet with 6 pages in it due tomorrow, assigned today… I have NO STUDY HALLS what are my teachers thinking plus i have a quiz in English tomorrow and 3 projects due, not to mention it is 10:00 and I have a track meet tomorrow that I need to rest well for. I had a science test but enough people were complaining that it got moved. I am only in 8th grade. Please someone help. I actually think that I am falling into depression from my lack of sleep and stress levels.

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  19. I’ve just assigned recently as one of the leaders in a whole class project by my professor. It’s a class performance which she expects by next month. I never expected too much pressure on this part. Which I needed to remind them on their concept paper. There are a lot of paper proposals done by my classmates which I need to study.

    Then, I just chatted some of my classmates and told me that I didn’t make any effort from my own group. I tried to reason out with them..

    What should I do?

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  20. I’m currently a high school senior and I completely agree that the amount of homework and pressure teachers give is totally unjust. I get home around 3:45 and start my homework at 4:30 because I need that downtime. It’s the only downtime I get through the entire day. I do my homework at lunch and on my spare then I come home and do homework sometimes until 1 in the morning. It’s funny because I even have a spare to do homework and I still don’t finish my homework until late at night. All of my classes are AP- I have Calculus and Vectors, Biology, and Heath Sciences. I’ve already been accepted into my number 1 universitry (thank god) but I need to keep up a good average for scholarships. I am having heart palpitations right now because I just went away on vacation and I missed 4 days of school. I tried to do my homework over my vacation, but I just felt so burned out and sleep deprived that I really just needed that break. My parents agreed that I needed to put my work down and do something for me for a change. I’m going back to school tomorrow and there is no way to finish all that I have. I’m so stressed out and I’m so mad at myself for not doing more. The thing is though, the amount that I was assigned is too much for any student, I have so much anxiety towards going to school. Somebody please help me.

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  21. Homework is not really needed if you’re (the teacher)making us practice it in class then we’re going to come back tomorrow and talk about the same thing. We’ve already taking notes about it to so if we need to reference it we have it. homework is ruining our lives I just got in trouble today about it.

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  22. I’m a Tutor and as teachers, we all know that homework is good for kids for a variety of reasons that don’t need to be enumerated here.

    And the kids?

    We ALL know how they feel about homework. No more words!!

    Thanks
    Evelyn W. Minnick

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  23. I come home from school, and start doing homework almost straight away. I don’t get much free time, basically just meals and showers. I do 5 1/2 to 9 hours of homework every week day, and 7 to 13 hours doing homework every weekend. I have to use Saturday to catch up on all the sleep I miss during the week. When, in this agonising, torturous curriculum-fuelled nightmare am I allowed time to be a human being? When am I given time to be a teenager, which is honestly the least predictable or rational time life. When do I have time time to have a social life, to have a job, to have a relationship, to have a life beyond homework? I am in year 10! This has got to change, now!

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  24. I agree. I’m an honor student in middle school and the homework is way too much even on the wknd. No time to hang out with friends or family. I’m very stress out with too much testing and to deal with all the homework is very overwhelming.

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  25. I fully agree with everything I am a student that has way to much homework and it is very stressful. I have no time to hang out with my friends or family. Or do after school activities. It is very stressful

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  26. i agree, i spend most of my time after school on homework and have hardly anytime for myself, friends or families.

    once i asked my parents if they could help me with a question, but they even didn’t know the answer (even explained all about) and i am only in grade 7

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  27. I definitely agree to this. I am getting 3 hours of homework a night at the minimum. I used to have lots of friends, and I was a social butterfly, but now due to schoolwork I have lost all my friends and feel empty inside. What is the point of all this work? It’s not like I’m learning anything from it.

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  28. 10 years later and the comments still keep coming. Jesus. My teacher is literally skipping teaching ANY OF CHINA and just making us learn it all ourselves online and do a project to learn, while she just sits and gets mad at us. Not to mention we only had 1 week to do it when we normally take 2 weeks at least to learn about the history of a country, and we’re getting really specific in this assignment, such as specific geographical landmarks, not just a general description. My eyes burn from crying so much, and maybe I’m just dumb, but I spent 8 hours at least and I hadn’t gotten anything completed because I didn’t understand anything I was reading and the websites had horrible grammar which made it even harder to understand. I really want to kill somebody right now. I also want to just go and die in a hole and never be found.

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  29. I totally agree with this! I spend at least 3 he on homework every night! And that is the LEAST I get. Now that there is a stomach bug going around the school, there are SOO many people absent. And when people are absent, you know what that means; 3 times as much homework than usual! Teachers have lots of work too but they don’t do anything but look at an answer sheet, they don’t actually do any brain wracking deep thought. My teachers aren’t that bad, they actually try to assign as little homework possible, but the darn school administration says NO. The tyrany is insane! My my social life is non existent. I’ve been piecing together the puzzle
    and you know what I found? The government is behind ALL of this! The government sees schools as vending machines; they put in
    policies and CHA CHING! Money comes out. That is why teachers
    have such low pay. And since homework means money for the
    school, they don’t care what we think or feel. They think of us as
    inert objects to be acted upon. The average middle school student has SEVERE depression. We don’t get enough sleep. Adults usually blame it on devices and though that is occasionally the case, it’s more of the fact that WE HAVE NO LIFE! As a student with ADHD it takes me 3 times as long to do homework and in my case let’s see ( flips through math book for a few minutes.) that would be 9 hrs of homework PER NIGHT! So 9 plus 7 hrs of school and you get 16. 16! This is REDICULOUS!
    And guess what? I’m only in 7th grade. I don’t think homework should be eradicated completely but I definately think- oh wait- I take that back, I KNOW there must be a change or there will be a great uprising! As an anonymous philosopher once said,”if a generation is hit hard, the next will likely hit harder.”
    Yours truly,

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  30. This is the truest site ever! Each night I have 4 to 5 hours of homework. And I agree with comment 383. The government is behind a lot of this! The government drains the school of money, then ,in an attempt to get more money, the school gives out more homework.
    THIS IS INSANE!

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  31. I’m in middle school and I’m already doing 4-6 hours of homework. Most of which are math. Who’s brilliant idea was it to combine Geometry and Algebra 2 in one school year? I had to drop out of art club, soccer, and swimming because there was too much on my plate. I’ve been having so many mental break downs and I usually don’t even have one. I am so not looking forward to high school. Teachers want us to be social and physically active, but at the same time they give us so much homework that we drown in it. It’s either bad grades and good life or good grades and terrible life. Teachers, you can’t have both. Homework is just boring, repetitive work.

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  32. I agree with this article. Homework ruins curiosity and gives you depression and anxiety if you dont finish. I like homework because it helps me study especially for math. I just think homework should be optional. If you need it, do it. I would take an afternoon off once a week and study some more but not everyday. I do the musical, track, cross country, deca, amd so many kther clubs that require me to wake up and be at school by 7 to attend. SEVEN I TELL YOU how does that make any sense? I have lost interest in replying to texts i get from my friends or even going ojt to eat with my family. Im a learner and i love learning so many things. I just wish school now a days was for learning instead of grades. I wish our world wasnt this way. I hate this life

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  33. I really wish people would understand the concept of HOMEWORK IS A REALLY BAD WASTE OF TIME!I mean come on! Whoever first said “hmmm… Ya know, it would be a great idea to, after all 7-8 hours of being chained to a chair doing nothing but writing all that time, it would be a great idea to give those poor subjects (cough cough cough) I mean -students , another 3-4-5-6… Surplus hours of homework each night.( And to add to the “educational quality” by really stacking the books on sunny pretty days when people want to hangout.)” ,whoever first said that needed to go back to preschool because even us teens ( yea, you read that right. The students, the sub-species, the social outcasts! Yea, US!) even in our state of being no more than dirt, even WE are more educated than him!

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  34. I agree with (almost) everything you are saying. I personally believe that I’ve learnt more elsewhere than school. My vocabulary for instance, I learnt so many words from YouTube and TV in general, I learnt the word “antidisestablishmentarianism” from a YouTube challenge video. Meanwhile in my English class I’ve been writing letters to the editor for the last 3 years, I don’t understand it. They way I see it the likelihood of me needed to use algebra on a daily basis isn’t high given my job prospects. For me, the worst part is the teachers. Always saying the same thing to “help” you deal with problems, “It’s easy now, you have no real responsibilities”. That always pisses me off, they don’t know that for certain. There’s no way for them to. The kid with “no responsibilities” could also be the kid who’s trying to raise money for a family members heart surgery, they wouldn’t know, couple that with hours spent doing homework to avoid failing grades makes it impossible to see the benefit.

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