Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Homework Abuse

Yesterday, I noted an article telling about a mother getting charged with child abuse for beating up her child in a battle over homework. The charges were reported by the child's father, and the authorities got involved. Obviously, no child should be beaten up the way it was described in this report.

I responded by posting a quick, and probably overly flip response, suggesting that assigning too much homework might be a form of child abuse, and that I've sometimes thought I should call child protection authorities when that happens. That is not a good position, and one I said in some haste.  But there is a larger issue behind my comment that I feel is important to make.

The assault reported in the paper is an extreme case of something that goes on at probably sub-abuse, yet, nevertheless, harmful levels everyday.  As a parent of three children, one who was homework-trapped, I know that my parenting style for that child differed dramatically from how I treated my other two children.  The level of conflict, pressuring, nagging, and arguing that ensued, often throughout the evening, was not fair to my child.  Yet, it was done under tremendous pressure from the school to get my son to do something he was not going to do. As the process unfolded, I realized that, underlying the situation, he was being asked to do something he could not do.  Asking him to complete all of his assignments at the expense of play was not much different from, say, having a wheelchair bound child and demanding that he ascend the stairs without a handicapped ramp.  He might be able to do it, on the ground, pulling himself up with his hands. He might be able to do it every day.  But if I made that demand, I'm sure my neighbors watching from their windows would have called DYFS on me.

Children are children and need balance in their lives.  I don't have a problem with children having a reasonable amount of productive homework that enhances their education. Frankly, I don't have a major problem with children having a reasonable (and time bounded) amount of, what seems to me to be, unproductive homework (if that's what the teachers believe is important for them to do). But to dominate one's evening at the expense of everything else a child needs to do, and, even more importantly, the things that parents, as heads of the household, want to see happen in their homes; I think that's abusive.

As a clinical psychologist, I meet with many people every week. These are not typically high achievers whose lives are filled with activities, are doing their homework, but need time to rest and refuel, but children who are suffering at school, often failing, and their parents are at their wit's end, desperate to see their children succeed, yet watching their education (and sometimes their lives) go down the tubes. These parents are demanding, at the school's insistence, to make sure that every assignment is done, and in the process, they have their children doing (or battling over) homework, for hours all night long. That's abusive to the kids. And it's abusive to the parents.


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