The solution offered here to the problem of youths engaging in “risky” behavior such as drinking or drug use is to basically make them busier at school. It’s couched in terms such as “increased graduation requirements” but what is actually being said is that giving these kids more homework is the key to keeping them out of trouble.

“Idle hands are the devil’s playthings” is how my grandparents would have put it. The thinking is that if you just keep kids busy enough they won’t given in to all these sinful behaviors. That doesn’t seem to be in line with current progressive thinking on any number of issues, nor is it really representative of reality for young people today.

First off, the amount of homework high school students in particular are assigned is already significant. A 2014 study reported students on average received 3.5 hours of homework a night, or 17.5 hour per week. While there’s some question as to how long that work actually takes, that’s a good chunk of time that teachers are *expecting* will be spent on work outside the classroom.

Even if the numbers are right and that only translates to roughly one hour of actual work by students at home, the reasons for that need to be examined as well. One answer might be that students are involved in so many extracurricular activities (either of their own volition or at their parents’ insistence) that one hour might be all that’s available to them each night, so they cram it all in.

Second, we can try to curb drug and alcohol use in young people, sure, but if anything “be busier” seems a counter-intuitive way to accomplish that.

Look at adults if you want proof of that. How many people are busier than ever with work that doesn’t end when you leave the office, the constant pressure to engage in “side hustles” to pay the bills, kids that need to be transported to school or other activities and all the other pressures that come with adulting? And how many of those people use some form of amphetamine to keep going, only to then require a couple drinks at the end of the day to come down before trying to eek out five hours of sleep? Seems to me that pressure to stay busy and productive is a great way to encourage the development of a substance abuse problem, not ward it off.

Finally, the expectations created by this kind of thinking aren’t going to do anyone any favors. While economists and others harp on productivity measures in the workplace, there’s also the growing realization that work needs to be engaging to the individual as well as beneficial to the company. Trying to just throw busy work at the problem shows there’s no accounting for the way different people work in different ways.

That would require, though, a massive rethinking of the educational system. Lower teacher/student ratios coupled with less of a reliance on standardized tests would allow for more individual attention and assessment. Similar concepts could be taught in different ways depending on what the student reacts and comprehends more easily.

“Stay busy” appears to me to be a great way to make sure some – not all – kids develop a fervent dislike of learning when it’s becoming more and more clear that lifelong education and training is essential. If you schedule every moment of every day as a productive one it becomes a chore, one that will be enthusiastically cast aside as soon as someone is able. The better solution would seem to be a system that expands opportunities for people to find activities that engage and interest them.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

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