Most teenagers hate studying and getting them to actually sit down and do their work can feel nearly impossible some days. Do they really need to suffer so much to learn?
Teenagers should study less than two hours a day, and less than one if possible. High school students in particular need 8-10 hours of sleep each night, and at least one hour to destress each day in order to keep healthy. Repeated studies on the efficacy of homework have proven to show little or no benefit.
That seems pretty counterintuitive considering everything that society tries to teach us about productivity, work, and study schedules. However, a little bit of investigation shows just how much long hours of study can harm teens during this pivotal time in their life.
How Many Hours of Study do Teens Need?
Let’s get this out of the way: Nobody actually needs to study. People will grow up into reasonably healthy adults without ever touching an ACT prep workbook. The only reason that people need to study is so that they can learn the skills that they’ll need in a particular line of work. Good study habits will help teens who intend to go into academics and may yield less value for those who want to go into the trades.
That being said, most teenagers need more time to decide what they want to do with their life, and getting good grades will help them keep their options open moving forward and help them use schools that may end up being useful to them in the future.
Studying is not a purpose in and of itself, it’s a tool that your teenager can use to learn about the world. As such, study time should serve your child’s needs and not the other way around.
Study after study has shown that teenagers need eight to ten hours of sleep every night, and they have also shown that teens in the United States easily end up being booked for more than 24 hours every day after homework and extracurriculars.
Not only that, but even before extracurriculars if a teen ends up coming home and spending three or more hours on homework they are literally working more than full time on something that they probably aren’t even enjoying.
If they’re like the ten percent of teens who spend twenty-plus hours weekly on extracurriculars, that can quickly add up to your child being booked for more than twelve hours a day assuming (generously) that five of those hours are spent on the weekend. That kind of workload would get a school shut down if it were a workplace.
It also leaves only two hours for eating, using the bathroom, recreation, dating, working, friends, therapy, learning to drive, practicing music, or having a hobby. That is only if the kid is allowed their eight to ten hours of sleep. These are all things that teenagers ought to have time to do, but if they’re overcommitted to homework they can’t!
Logistically speaking, teens shouldn’t have to spend more than two hours doing homework. But studies also show that when it comes to homework less is usually more. A classic adage in education is that forty-five minutes of the right homework is better than one hour of the wrong homework.
Spanish researchers at the University of Oviedo tested this in 2015, finding that students who were assigned only one hour of homework each night were both more likely to do that homework and more effective in class.
You obviously can’t control the amount of work your child’s teacher gives them to do, but you can advise your teenager to prioritize mental health over pointless work.
It’s also important to note that while one to two hours of homework per day seems to be enough for most teenagers, spending more than two hours on homework in a day yields quickly diminishing results.
The bottom line is that you shouldn’t force your teenager to study for more than two hours a day. In an optimal world, they would only study for one hour, but we live in a world that seems to give too much to children so they might have to do a little more work than is reasonable.
How To Get Your Teen to Study
Decreasing the burden on your teen will help them feel more empowered to use their two study hours to actually study, but allowing them to take the lead in their study time will be even more effective.
You can do this by sitting down with your teenager and making a study plan with them. Take a look at their schedule and ask them when they think they’ll study the most effectively. Remind them to block out eight to ten hours to sleep and make sure they take extracurriculars into account.
This serves two purposes. Once you know your kid’s schedule, you can help advise places where they might cut out unnecessary bits so that they aren’t overworked.
The second is that it helps your child feel like they’re in control of their own schedule and allows you to keep them accountable for their own decisions. People who feel ownership over their work are more likely to spend their time and effort on that work. The ideal role for you as a parent in this process is to provide support and help to remind them of the plans that they made.
Some teens may not be able to make or follow a schedule. Kids with ADHD may struggle to stick to a plan for an extended period of time. You may need to find mental health help for them so that they can either get medication or therapy to help them function under the rigors of the academic system.
Should Teenagers Study for More Than Six Hours a Day?
There is no good reason to make teenagers study for more than two hours a day, three tops. Especially if they already had class during that day, making them study for longer than that will bleed into the time that they need to spend either sleeping or relaxing to stay sane.
Six hours is just too many. If it’s the weekend and they can space the hours out over the course of the entire day, they might be able to get six hours of productive study in, but otherwise, it’s more likely to stress the teen out than help them succeed in their classes.
Plus, all the time that they spend on the weekend studying is time that they can’t spend with their friends or on their hobbies. These are the things that make life worth living for everyone, depriving students of it seems cruel for no reason.
A lot of people consider studying as a kind of work for work’s sake that builds up character and prepares students for the “real world.” However, in what world would we actually want laborers to accept the kind of hours that schools put students through?
We all love the weekend and the fact that we don’t have to bring our work home with us, and unionists fought and some even lost their lives to get us those rights. If we wouldn’t put ourselves as adults through something, then why put our kids through it?
By making kids study for long hours, even on the weekend when they have more time, we’re teaching them that work is a moral good in and of itself when the truth is that work is only morally good insofar as it accomplishes good things. Parents especially ought to think about the kinds of messages they’re sending their kids when they advise them on study habits.
How Many Hours a Day Should Teens Study for Homeschool?
It can be hard to judge how much time homeschool students need to spend on studying. It will probably be less time than they would need to spend in public school since public school workloads tend to be overly large anyways and instruction times will likely be much shorter.
A good rule of thumb is that depending on what your teen is working on, between three and four hours of instruction will usually be enough, and they can spend however much time they’d like to outside that time on studying.
Homeschooling is usually student-led, which means that once you’ve made a plan with your kid you should stick to it as long as it’s reasonable.
Why Minimizing Study Time is Important
A 2013 study done by Stanford University and published in the Journal of Experimental Education showed that spending more than three hours studying in a day correlated with higher rates of stress, worse physical health, and worse life balance. This study was done in high-performing, privileged schools.
If you’ve ever asked a teen about why they’re stressed this probably makes sense to you. Of course, if your teen doesn’t do any of their homework, they’ll only get more stressed about it.
That being said, making them spend more time than is strictly necessary to get their work done will inevitably lead to higher stress levels, especially if they can’t do the things that they like to do to decrease stress levels.
What Can Educators Do to Help?
There are several problems that can make it difficult for educators to help decrease the amount of time their students need to study for their classes. The biggest one is that it’s hard to judge whether an assignment will take fifteen minutes or forty-five.
With differences in work speeds between students, this can mean that while a few students stay on track in a healthy amount of time others will need to work long hours to keep up.
Another big problem is that high school teachers need to share the time their students are expected to spend on homework with other teachers in the school, which means that it’s easy for two teachers to give out their biggest assignments of the year at the same time, causing a spike in time spent out of class.
Teachers also may be in the position of teaching AP or IB classes that have demanding curriculums that can increase student workloads significantly. Simply by the nature of the amount of material they need to cover to keep up with requirements might make extra assignments inevitable.
There aren’t any easy answers for teachers who find themselves in these positions, but there are some tricks that they can try to alleviate the problem.
To get a better idea of how long an assignment should take, teachers can set aside some class time to observe students doing their homework to see how long it takes.
This can be done on a class-by-class basis, or it can be done as a schoolwide event. As long as teachers are present to see how long their homework takes it should be able to help things at least a little bit.
They can also collaborate with other teachers to time assignments so that students don’t end up with more than one or two big projects due at the same time. This can take the form of a school-wide assignment calendar or it can be a discussion that takes place during planning times. Whatever works best for the faculty of any given institution.
There isn’t a good answer to the problem of advanced courses. A lot of students benefit from them, but the workloads do tend to be much higher than is healthy.
Sleep and Education
We’ve known for a long time that the biggest barrier for teenagers trying to get an education is sleep. In schools where classes start earlier than 8:30 the early hours cause truancy, lack of focus, and all sorts of other nasty problems that can make what should be a rewarding experience miserable.
The benefits that schools in Seattle got from pushing their schedules up just one hour were tremendous, with students sleeping more and coming to class on time more consistently.
While the only thing that you can do to fix the problem of early school hours is to vote for people who don’t hate children, you can help make sure that your kid is free to sleep as early as they want to by not putting too much responsibility on their evenings.