Growing up, I was a perfectionist.
Not only did my need to excel make me a competitive friend, but it also made me want to prove to adults that I wasn’t an ordinary 13-year-old.
I’m not sure where I picked up the need to present myself as the perfect teenage specimen, but it was an attitude I couldn’t shake. Now, I jokingly tell my parents they got off easy having me as their daughter. I never required much discipline and didn’t need to be pressed to finish my homework or study.
As a result, I always thought the key to raising a successful child was to ease up instead of bearing down. I can name more than a few peers who rebelled under their parents’ watchful eyes, buckled under the pressure to follow a certain career path or play an “in the blood” sport.
But it turns out that girls with nagging mothers actually do grow up to be more successful.
A study conducted by the University of Essex tracked roughly 15,000 girls for six years. Those 13-14-year-old girls with mothers who set high [academic] standards ended up going on to college and earning more money than their non-nagged peers. The girls in this category were also less likely to become pregnant as teenagers by about 4%.
Despite these positive results, I think it’s important to distinguish between nagging and motivation. For example, the study cites mothers specifically adding pressure in regards to academia—not general perfectionism.
Checking in with your daughter to make sure she completed and understood her algebra homework shows you value education. This connects the nagging to an end goal.
In my own experience, praise fueled me more than anything else. The first time an AP teacher held my essay up in front of the class was comparable to a 5-hour energy shot of motivation. I wanted to keep nailing those literary analyses and I felt confident enough to try.
Calculus, on the other hand, way more about being right or wrong. You’re simply corrected and expected to do better next time. As Sumitha Bhandarkar notes, choosing praise over criticism is an excellent way to achieve the same end result—without tears or a severed relationship.
The study doesn’t go into detail about how daughters were specifically nagged. But there are clear-cut ways to set expectations aside from just being a “Tiger Mom.” Working to send your daughter the message that she’s capable of achieving a realistic goal seems to be the key behind harping on homework.
Though I seem to be an example of the outlier, the former student who needed no one to stress the importance of education, dozens of the girls I sat next to in middle and high school could have used the annoying push every now and then.
What was your experience growing up? Did your mother set high expectations for you, and if so, will you do the same for your daughter?
Image courtesy of Shuttershock.