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Will nagging help your daughter succeed?

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Setting 'high standards' for your children is not the same as being a nag.

I came across this article recently that asserts “nagging moms have more successful daughters.” The article references “new research” that alleges “girls who are nagged are more likely to continue their studies after high school and less likely to become unemployed.”

Okay … leaving aside the mental acrobatics required to connect nagging with post-high school education, I couldn’t help but notice that all the quotes from the actual “research” never once mentioned nagging. In fact, the exact wording was “setting high standards.”

I suspected there was a bit of misinterpretation going on, so I pulled up the actual study, where I found exactly zero uses of the term “nag.” Equally absent were the terms “harass,” “badger,” “harp,” “hound,” “criticize,” or even “remind.” In fact, the entire study speaks exclusively of parental expectations, not parental behavior. Likewise, the study consistently refers to parental expectations, not merely maternal ones.

This kind of fact-twisting is insultingly deceptive. Setting high standards for our daughters is vital to help them succeed, but having high standards is not the same thing as nagging. Sure, some mothers nag and have high standards, but some mothers nag and have low standards.

Nagging is a form of constant criticism that is almost always an emotional outlet for the nagger and a form of low-level emotional abuse for the unfortunate target. Nagging is not indicative of anything other than the internal state of the nagger and the external atmosphere she creates.

Even worse is the exclusion of fathers via this astounding inference: “The parent who is the most dedicated to their daughters has the most influence on them, and in most cases it’s the mother.”

Um. Wow.

A gross and insulting generalization, but helpfully illuminating. This article is not a distillation of a research paper but an extended justification for poor behavior and a strained mother-daughter relationship.

If our daughters deserve better than teen pregnancies and unemployment, they definitely deserve better than this kind of chicanery.

Here’s what the study actually said:

Firstly, parents’ expectations about educational choices may directly influence the formation of the teenager’s expectations and therefore, affect the perception of the teenager’s opportunity cost of current and future choices. Secondly, if parents have high expectations about their teenager’s academic choices, then they will continue investing in the teenager’s human capital.

Basically, parents who expect their kids to succeed academically will raise kids who believe they can succeed, and will help them do so.

That’s a lot different than “only mothers matter, and we should keep nagging because science!”

Nothing in this study is exactly a revelation, but it is an important reminder to invest in our teenagers’ “human capital.” I’d hazard a guess that constant criticism is not the form of investment the study’s author envisioned, though. Better for both parents to set high standards for their daughters and firmly but lovingly encourage them and hold them accountable.

So, no, nagging will not help your daughter succeed. Recognizing her potential and helping her reach it will.

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