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Have You Done Your Homework?

written by Christine Duvivier 18 December 2008

Christine Duvivier, MAPP '07 and Cornell MBA, is a positive change speaker and mentor who helps her clients unleash hidden talents, develop skills, and take practical steps to achieve higher levels of happiness and success. In her career at DuPont, Eli Lilly, and DEC, she learned to lead with positive alignment and release what holds us back. Christine's model builds on strengths, challenges myths, and cultivates possibility in each individual, even if they are not currently "A" players. Web site. Email. Full bio. Christine's articles are here.

The #1 Question Parents Ask Most: Surprising Facts

Homework teen happinessDid you ask your child about his or her homework this week?  In parent circles, homework has become  a point of contention.  Parents ask each other, “Do you agree there is too much homework?”  If you are one of the parents questioning students’ school assignments, you may want to do your own homework on this subject.

In his book, “The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing,” researcher Alfie Kohn says none of the studies on homework show a significant positive effect on high school learning. Some of the studies actually show harm, and, at best, the studies are neutral, Kohn reports.

I agree with parents who feel that for many teens there’s too much homework. When my own daughters were going through high school (two different schools), I felt this way, but I thought it was just me. Now, more parents are speaking up and questioning high school work levels. You’ve probably heard the “benefits” of more homework, but how often do you hear about how teens benefit from less homework?

Benefits of Less Homework

There are at least three major benefits of less homework:

  1. Increase parent-teen bonding time
  2. Reduce family stress
  3. Free-up time for life-changing activities

Increase Parent-Teen Bonding Time

Duvivier familyAt one of my recent parent workshops, one mother told me, “I used to bond with my child while taking a walk in the woods, but now she has too much homework and other school activities: there’s no time.” If you are a high school parent, this is a crucial age for family bonding. We need positive relationships to buffer against the negative effects of stress, says Dr. George Vaillant. Additionally, Dr. Ned Hallowell explains that parent-teen connection leads to adult happiness.

Less homework frees-up opportunities for reconnecting with your teen: nice for you, vital for your child.

Reduce Family Stress

Homework teen happinessThe high levels of homework can damage parent-child relationships in another way: students’ school demands can begin to feel like parents’ school demands—and we can end up nagging our teens because of the pressure we feel to make sure they get the best possible start in life.

In my worst moments as a parent, I imagined my teens lying on the couch watching TV for the next 30 years—if I didn’t prod them now! Sadly, when I looked around for help, all the resources encouraged more nagging and prodding: schedules, planners, tutors, consequences, kind-but-authoritative expectation-setting… it’s exhausting just to think about it. Looking back, I think it’s a good thing that I didn’t have the energy or the discipline to follow-through on all the advice we got—it’s one assignment I’m glad I failed.

At the age where our kids most need to know we are there for them, school pressures can add to our stress and undermine the love and trust teens need (even if they don’t show it).

Free Up Time for Life-Changing Activities

Homework and SportsEven if you’ve maintained a great relationship with your teen, you still have good reason to question the amount of high school work. Engagement — “flow”— occurs when you are absorbed in an activity that challenges your skills or uses your strengths in new ways, and flow gives kids a chance to flourish, says Martin Seligman. What better life lessons could our teens learn?

Sadly, most teens are not engaged in their academic classes, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi reports. Most of the flow in high school learning happens in non-academic areas—electives, sports, and arts. Outside of school, hobbies, games, and community activities like volunteer service and scouting can be highly-engaging—yet these are often minimized due to time-pressure. If most of students’ school experience is not engaging, do we really want to add even more non-engaging homework to the daily strain—and deprive teens of activities where they can flourish?

If you are wondering how to help your teen thrive, my response is: less homework, more flow.



Hallowell, E. (2003). The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness: Five Steps to Help Kids Create and Sustain Lifelong Joy. New York: Ballantine Books.

Kohn, A. (2006). The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing. Cambridge: Da Capo Lifelong Books.

Seligman, M. E. P. (2002). Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. New York: Free Press.

Shernoff, D. J., Csikszentmihalyi, M., Shneider, B., & Shernoff, E. S. (2003). Student engagement in high school classrooms from the perspective of flow theory. School Psychology Quarterly, 18(2), 158-176.

Vaillant, G. (1998). Adaptation to Life. New York, NY: Harvard University Press.

Images: Studying teen girl, teen girl, soccer girl.

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Coert Visser 18 December 2008 - 1:39 pm

Hi Christine, thanks for this thought provoking article. I knew about Kohn’s book and I am an admirer of his work (for instance Punished by rewards and No Contest, which are very thought provoking and very well researched). I am taking it seriously and tend to believe it but I’m still chewing a bit on his plea for less homework. As parents we can’t control the amount of homework our kids are given. What do you do as a parent when your kids’ school is giving lots of homework? What is your take on this?

All the best,
Coert Visser

Kathryn Britton 18 December 2008 - 1:54 pm


Good question. And how do we help our children preserve energy for learning for its own sake when there is such a push to look good on college applications by taking lots of AP courses — which tend to leave very little room for exploration? Shouldn’t high school be a time for trying out different subjects? But I see kids refusing to study anything that they don’t already know they are good at for fear of dropping their grade point averages.


I like your discussion of the ‘one assignment I’m glad I failed.’ I think part of the solution is to take one’s own ego out of a child’s success or failure at school, and then to realize that there are multiple paths to a successful life that don’t all go through top-ranking colleges. At least that takes some of the tension out of it.


Louis Alloro 18 December 2008 - 2:39 pm

Christine – thanks for an interesting article.

As a high school English teacher, I knew how necessary it was to give homework (especially reading assignments which so few kids completed anyway). The curriculum is demanding and there is no way that all of the material can be covered during class time. Part of the issue (in secondary schools at least) is that there is no way to know what other teachers are doing — in other departments, wings of the school, etc. At least in elementary schools, teachers can better manage the homework load because there are fewer teachers and fewer class-changes.

The larger issue is as Kathryn points out: high school should be a time of exploration, where kids can discover and enable their strengths. It is with this intentional exploration that moments of flow can be created. As it stands, schools are still operating in a deficit-based, zero-sum, post-WWII, modernist and oppressive model. What do we do with kids who are not good at math? Give them more math!?!

It is clear some redesign is necessary. We need to reframe teaching & learning. This is where positive psychology (www.flourishingschools.com) can help!

Christine Duvivier 18 December 2008 - 3:05 pm

Hi Coert,

I also love the two books you mentioned (and I refer to them elsewhere)– interestingly, I discovered Punished by Rewards when I was looking at the issue for adults in business– problematic there too!

Your point that parents don’t have much control is a great one. Here are a couple of things I suggest: 1) encourage your child to stop or not finish if it is too much in a given day/week — even though it could mean a lower grade. So it requires the willingness to de-emphasize grades which I know isn’t easy — you might want to see my study for more on that http://www.positiveleaders/studyresults.html (Often your child can be less comfortable with not completing the assignment than you are — it’s a matter of discussion, balance, and education– would be happy to discuss it further with you).
2) speak with other parents and join forces to influence the school. Have this as a topic of discussion at the PTA/PTO or just find some kindred spirits in your casual conversations and approach the school/teacher together.

All the best,

Christine Duvivier 18 December 2008 - 3:09 pm

Hi Kathryn,
You’re so right that college drives much of the concern. And I agree wholeheartedly with allowing kids to learn and explore what is of most interest to them — another path to flow!

As you point out, when we redefine what a “good college” is, we can begin to shift out of this trap. Further, when we look at real-life data and realize that even college isn’t the only path to a flourishing, successful life, we open even more possibilities.

Thanks for your comments!

Christine Duvivier 18 December 2008 - 3:18 pm

Hi Louis,
I’m sympathetic to high school teachers — and I know you were committed to doing the very best for your students. Many teachers come to me and ask for help re-thinking how they approach their work — although they don’t have a great deal of leeway because they are constrained by the system they’re in.

As you point out, often our response is to give a student more of something that takes them even further away from flow, loving relationships and things that play to their strengths and gifts. I agree with you — we need to rethink our approach to school– my interest is in working with parents, voters, educators and government leaders to understand the effects of our system on kids– not only does it not amplify their gifts and strenghts, it’s also a cause of depression and anxiety– more depth on this at http://www.positiveleaders.com/studyresults.html

Thanks for your comments!

Sean 19 December 2008 - 4:08 pm

Thanks for this article Christine. (Maybe the current MAPP students should forward it to James and Debbie – wink). The amounts of homework is a hard and frustrating issue. I think a related issue are year round schools. As my community tries to move toward them, I have heard all sorts of arguments in favor. However, some of our best times as a family and for teaching about life occur in the months away from school. Every year we take the kids to central America for the summer. So much learning and connection takes place there that the schools cannot provide.


Christine Duvivier 19 December 2008 - 9:38 pm

Sean, I agree with you about the learning and connection your family gets over the summer. Not only that, but kids who go to camp of any kind generally have wonderful developmental experiences– learning, flow, connections, feeling good about themselves.

Even without a family trip or camp, having a chance to explore what’s of interest to the child– or having a chance to be “in flow,” experiencing natural pleasure or connection with nature– are crucial experiences. Personally, I would not want my children in school year-round. If children in a district do not have access to good opportunities, I’d prefer to see a camp set up rather than more school.

Good luck — I hope you continue to have time for your wonderful trips.

SHUBH 19 December 2008 - 11:26 pm

Indeed a nice write-up. No doubt ‘home work for kids’ has become a major concern for many parents especially for both working. Seeing the current weak economy phase, it is also not good to get extra financial burden by hiring a full time traditional tutor. Seeing all these circumstances, I think online assignment help being provided at almost negligible cost by many companies like the one http://tutorskingdom.com/ may be the most ideal option.

Senia 13 November 2009 - 4:27 pm


I’m listening to Ned Hallowell speak, and he was speaking about homework, and he says this most interesting comment – that when ADD kids get homework, “Often, they don’t think about the HW due date as “next Wednesday.” They think about it as “now” or “not now.” If the homework is not due tomorrow, then the due date is “not now.”

Similarly, those same kids – and Ned Hallowell himself – get a high from the adrenaline of finishing the homework the night before. He says, adrenaline is similar to medication, like Ritalin. So ADD people can come to love high-stimulation environments.




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