The Pressure of Perfection and the Fear of Failure

Studies show the good and bad effects that homework has on a students metal heath.


A common sight in many households is students hunched over piles of homework. This has led many to question whether or not homework is beneficial to students. The Washington Post explored what skills are truly helpful for a student, and if those skills can be taught without homework. “What would happen if students were free to experience classes, retain information and build connections without fear that their futures hung in the balance of a single imperfect product?”

Elly Keyes and Bella LeJuerrne

In any area of education, homework affects everyone: the teachers whose jobs consist of assigning and grading homework, the parents of the students who can attest to the hours their children spend agonizing over homework, and the students themselves, whose lives are wrapped around the obsession of perfect grades and fear of failure.  

There has always been controversy around the idea of homework. Homework’s earliest origin dates back to ancient Rome, according to College-Homework-Help, as a way for students to develop skills in an informal atmosphere. In 1905, homework was formally “invented” by an Italian teacher as, ironically, a form of punishment.  

Since then, homework and education systems have changed. Teenagers today face increasing expectations, along with the pressure of grades and stress to be  successful in school. While some homework can be beneficial for a student’s learning process, teenagers are facing the increasing problem of, “When is too much, too much?” When does constant stress over homework assigned every night go over the edge, resulting in more harm than good?

It is reported that kindergarteners are assigned twenty-five minutes of homework a night – according to a 2015 study by the American Journal of Family Therapy – when ultimately, they should have none. Additionally, 85% of children in kindergarten are enthusiastic and compliant towards learning, but this number decreases drastically at the high school level where forty percent of students are chronically disengaged with school, as an Oxford Learning article reports. These statistics highlight just the first layer of this complex issue – that increasing amounts of homework today start at even earlier ages. As younger and younger students are assigned more homework, there is a rapid increase of discontempt and disinterest towards schoolwork as they get older. 

Our “job” as teenagers is to attend school and receive our education. To get good grades and prepare us for the next education in college. From 7:45 a.m. to 2:35 p.m., receive the knowledge presented to us so we can pass our next quiz, our next test, to achieve what most students spend so much time obsessing over – as close to perfect of a grade we can get. The idea of failure, to most students, is unacceptable. Here lies the problem, as discussed heavily in a high school student’s feature about the detriment of perfection while learning, I’m a Loser Because of School

Here, the author toys with the idea of what it means to learn independently in self-fulfillment, rather than sit in a classroom and memorize the topics given; that failure teaches teenagers more than perfection does, and that this knowledge of failure better prepares us for life. The author discusses how society in general values the education of knowledge and encourages perfection of grades, rather than the education of development into human beings.


Arguably, teenagers thirty years ago did not have the tremendous amount of pressures today’s teenagers confront on a daily basis – this pressure being to  achieve high grades. An article from the New York Times, School vs. Education, discusses the old-fashioned methods of education, where a child is taught that they are either “smart or dumb” based on expectations and discourages students who do not meet high expectations. Furthermore, the expectations regarding education for most students is to prepare for college, then attend college, and then prepare for graduate school. There is an influence for students to take honors and AP classes to prepare for and appeal to colleges – to perform well in classes to achieve high grades. Anything less is failure. Today’s schooling system pushes the agenda that to succeed in life, students have to succeed in education first. 

As a result, this pressure is having an increased mental health effect on teenagers. A 2013 study conducted by Stanford University reports seventy percent of students felt stress due to school, while 56% of this group said it was because of homework. One in five students experience rising levels of stress, depression, and anxiety from homework (Oxford Additionally, homework affects other parts of a teen’s physical health, such as lack of sleep, weight loss, stomach problems, and fatigue, according to the Atlas of Science

While homework is the origin of several health issues for teenagers, there are beneficial effects of homework that impact students’ grades. According to a study found in the article Down with Homework, Say U.S School Districts by Wall Street Journal, high school students show improvement by doing up to two hours of homework a night, while giving more does not show any change. Nonetheless, our society will come, if it has not already, to question when the increasing amount of homework is too much for teenagers to handle. 

After all, we are kids – still young – yet our social lives are compromised at the expense of the obsession of perfection in school. Teenagers should be able to enjoy their youth and freedoms, be able to experience the absence of extreme responsibilities. Students should be able to pursue extracurriculars without having to stress about homework. Work-life balance has always been significant, yet this balance is getting lost in what many view only the beneficial impacts of homework. This impact cannot exist without a balance, and as education progresses, this balance is losing its value in education.

What teenagers need to succeed in life are the skills to develop into human beings.  Reliability and self-motivation are such skills that would benefit students in future careers and struggles, taught through schooling by assigning homework that is not graded. Failure is another one of these skills – vital to a person’s success in life – but the practice of failure in school is blindsided by the ingrained obsession to be perfect. As I’m A Loser Because of School quotes from Let’s Get Rid of Grades (a The Washington Post article), “‘What would happen if students were free to experience classes, retain information and build connections without fear that their futures hung in the balance of a single imperfect product?’’ Teenagers should not be educated with this knowledge presented to them, rather allowed to learn without the fear of failure shadowing over them. 


One of the methods Shawnee Heights uses to consider to help develop these skills is the “Eight Keys of Excellence,” a mantra ingrained into the minds of students from first to twelfth grade. This method, hypothetically, attempts to solve what most schools fall short on – developing skills to be more than a student – but exists to a point where the words are nothing more than meaningless. Shawnee Heights is starting to recognize the current issue of mental health with their addition of a new school counselor, a focus that has potential for the benefit of Shawnee Heights students. 

Outside of Shawnee Heights, a “ten minutes per grade” rule is suggested to help buffer the increase of homework. This “rule” proposes that each student be assigned an amount of homework coordinating to their grade – ten minutes for each grade level. This would mean first-graders would have ten minutes of homework, while seniors in the twelfth grade would have two hours. While this method sees benefit, some schools have even banned homework altogether. Schools in states such as Connecticut and Louisiana have begun regulating homework, whether this includes placing a nightly time limit, or not allowing homework to be assigned on certain days. Even so, critics argue that without homework students lose motivation and will not have enough knowledge about the topic. However, this break, sometimes short but significant, allows students a minute to step back and find a work-life balance.


An extreme change to homework altogether would call for a national change in educational customs – a difficult endeavor for what could have questionable outcomes, but at least beneficial to the homework issue. But here, at Shawnee Heights, we can decrease the pressure of homework and encourage skills such as  failure – ones that will be valuable to success in our future careers and in life.