Monday, March 4, 2013

Homework and Child Abuse

“Hello. You’ve reached the Department of Children and Families’ Child Abuse Hotline. How can I help you?”

“I want to report a case of child abuse. My son is required to do too much homework?”
What do you think? Reportable under the law?
To address this question, I looked for definitions of child abuse and found this description used by Connecticut’s Department of Children and Families: “Definitions of Child Abuse and Neglect.” Most do not apply, but some of it does.
According to the State of Connecticut,

“Emotional abuse or maltreatment is the result of cruel or unconscionable acts and/or statements made, threatened to be made, or allowed to be made by the person responsible for the child's care that have a direct effect on the child.”

These statements constitute abuse when they affect, “… the child's psychological, cognitive, emotional and/or social well-being and functioning…”
As a clinical psychologist, I have met countless parents who fight with their children over homework every night. Many of these kids have under-the-radar learning problems that keep them from finishing their work in a reasonable amount of time. They hear constant negativity as they move up the grades with demands that keep expanding beyond what they can do. The school asks the parents to join them in an effort to make their children comply (essentially, to gang up on their kids). The children rebel and are met with humiliation. They are forced to stay late for after school and weekend detentions. They often get excluded from afterschool activities and eventually get separated from the peer groups they truly need.
The State of Connecticut says that:

“Emotional abuse or maltreatment may result from [boldened for emphasis]:

  • repeated negative acts or statements directed at the child
  • exposure to repeated violent, brutal, or intimidating acts or statements among members of the household
  • cruel or unusual actions used in the attempt to gain submission, enforce maximum control, or to modify the child's behavior
  • rejection of the child.”
How does this differ from the experience kids have who are homework trapped and pressed to work on? Please tell me what you think.

For more information on Dr. Goldberg's model, read other postings on this blog, visit his website, The Homework Trap, or read his book, The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Students and Teachers. 



Opening Pandora said...


My daughter's teacher had her so freaked over making sure the homework was done (and it had to be "correct") that we ended up with a seriously depressed child, and one who had no quality of life to speak of....her life was school, homework and bed...that's it. Little to no time for anything else. We had weekend, holiday, and even summer homework...there was never a break, or a chance to recharge.

She no longer attends that school....for now we are homeschooling.

The most shameful thing is all of this was done to my daughter in the name of test scores...and she tested proficient to advanced across the board.....if this is what happened to much worse must it be for students who are not "making the grade?"

Ken said...

I just posted a reply to someone who commented on my Thehomeworktrap Facebook page. I'll repost that comment here.

I understand what you are saying and agree with you. In my blog post, I wanted to go beyond the general use of words like abuse and neglect and consider the formal definitions that child protection authorities use. There is a difference between the everyday decisions we personally regret and the parental actions that constitute mistreatment under the standards of the law. In that vein, I think emotional abuse fits most clearly into what I see for children who are homework-trapped. The sad part, and one that I had not commented on when writing my blog post, is that a careful reading of the Connecticut definitions (which I believe are similar to definitions used everywhere) shows that the onus of responsibility is squarely placed on the parent, not on the school. I boldened the words that I thought would highlight the comparison between homework pressures and emotional abuse, but there are some lines I did not bolden that say that the action is emotionally abusive, only if it is engaged in by a caretaker of the child. Parents fit into that category. I don't think teachers do. So, in a way, parents are boxed in with responsibilities to force their child to do the work. If they agree to force the child, they are inflicting harm. And if they do not require the child to do the work, they can also be seen as neglectful as if they are not supporting the child's education. For some parents, the only way out is to homeschool the child, since it allows them to define the requirements that they then chose to enforce.