Feel like you are always nagging your kids? Don't worry, it could be good for them

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock 

If you feel like you've been nagging your kids for zero results, take heart: a new study has found daughters who are "nagged" by their mums actually turn out to be more successful.

But don't get too excited – the University of Essex study has some pretty narrow ideas about what constitutes "success". What researchers found was that mothers who set high standards for their daughters will have adolescent daughters less likely to become pregnant, more likely to go to university, and less likely to go on to be unemployed or earn low wages.

Researcher Ericka Rascon-Ramirez said the results were most marked with girls who were less academic, or had less friends or teachers encouraging them.

"What our parents expected about our school choices was, very likely, a major determinant of our decisions about conceiving a child or not during our teenage years," she said.

The study, which examined the lives of schoolgirls aged 13 and 14, showed that mothers seem to be the parent with the greatest "nagging power". 

"The measure of expectations in this study reflects a combination of aspirations and beliefs about the likelihood of attending higher education reported by the main parent, who, in the majority of cases, is the mother," it said.

Ariella Lew, director and founder of Kids on Track Consultancy, doesn't believe the study provides enough evidence to change the way mothers are interacting with their daughters.

"[The study] offers no evidence to suggest better long-term success rates in school or whether the girls went on to have successful relationships or careers after they finished school," she says. 

"Did they achieve any of their own personal goals and did they have fulfilling lives? I think there are many parameters of success."

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So how should parents define success when they're raising their children?

Lew says every parent and child is different, but in a world where there is more pressure on children to 'succeed' than ever before, it's important to focus on the child's fundamental happiness.

"The first barometer of success would be raising a child who is proud of who they are and comfortable with their own choices," she says. "These are children who understand that choices have consequences but have an inner strength which help them to be able to back themselves. 

"Secondly, I think that a child who is raised with an informal but extremely respectful relationship with their parents where they understand who is in charge but also that their parents love them unconditionally is a huge marker of success. It is also an extremely hard balance to get right.

"Finally, I think that, because every child is different, tangible success can be measured in facilitating children reaching their individual goals. These may be academic, sports-related or interest-driven but these goals allow your child to define what is important to them and therefore what means 'success'."

Lew says there are risks associated with pushing teenagers too hard – and this can have unfortunate results with teenage girls.

"Teenage girls tend to put more pressure on themselves to 'people please', and this can apply to parents as well," she says. "They often want to succeed at whatever they try, to meet others' expectations, and sometimes can project an image of coping when actually they are struggling.  

"Teenagers are at a developmental stage where they crave approval from others and to 'fit in'.  Any pressure that makes teenage girls feel as though they are inadequate can cause insecurity.  This in extreme cases can be one contributing factor to issues of addiction, eating disorders and self-harm."

So it's left to parents to push their children just enough to help them reach their goals, but not so much that we do them damage. It's a balancing act we all struggle with, says Lew. 

"I think the balance here lies in when pushing is disguised as support!" she says. "For example, at exam time, when mothers offer to help their daughter with revising the subjects she is struggling with or brings her snacks during her breaks, that is supportive.

"When the conversation turns to expected outcomes – for example, what marks are expected – that becomes pressure. Too much of this and daughters are likely to become resentful.

"Anything that can be made to feel like a joint venture and that both mother and daughter are invested in is likely to increase the bond between them rather than driving them apart."