I have to confess, I enjoyed nagging my children.
My friend Deanne Carson, a respectful relationships counsellor, thinks this is a character flaw and that I should have allowed their inner resilience to blossom and their intrinsic motivation to bloom. My response? You aren’t born resilient, your mother makes you that way.
Nagging gets bad press. That’s probably rooted in the endless chastising of small children in playgrounds. Put your shoes on; don’t eat the sand. Or at home. Pick up your clothes; be nice to your sister. The list of instructions we issue our children is long. And the older they get, the longer the list gets.
But researchers have come out on the side of nagging and I could not be more thrilled. Now, being researchers, they don’t actually call it nagging but I know what they mean even if they are couching it in acceptable terms.
Ericka Rascon-Ramirez, an assistant professor at Middlesex University, has devoted her research over the last six years to looking at the impact parents have on children, from Malawi to the UK. The results are similar. Parents who spend time talking to their children about their expectations – and reinforcing those expectations – have children who do better at school. They are more likely to go on to higher education. They are less likely to get pregnant. In Malawi she found that investing in human capital [ensuring the kids actually do the work] through vocational training programs, childbearing was reduced. Same result.
And Rascon-Ramirez explains that it’s not about class. In fact, it’s particularly true for girls who may not have been performing well at the age of 13, no matter what their socio-economic background is.
Are the parents nagging?
Rascon-Ramirez is diplomatic. The data tells her that parents are talking to their children about their academic work and they do it regularly. Without fail.
“[These parents show] high expectations . . . detailed time allocation data shows us that they spend time doing homework with their children or monitoring or supervising homework,” says Rascon-Ramirez. “Even if you have a lack of resources to support your kids, it is important to believe in their future because that will impact their attitudes.”
It’s a finding which will warm the hearts of parents everywhere. Ann Caro, a school principal in western NSW, responds this way. “Nagging is merely the repetition of unpleasant truths . . . as I tell my staff, it is the most effective teaching technique – it shows you care,” she says.
Caro has two daughters but has also taught thousands of students.
“I don’t have any qualms about nagging. If you don’t follow up you are not doing the right thing.”
Megan Watkins, an associate professor at Western Sydney University and a researcher into education and culture, in particular discipline in diverse groups, is reluctant to use the word nagging. But she confesses she used techniques to modify the behaviour of her own son, now 19.
“Children have to learn a whole range of different behaviours, such as the ability to sit quietly and concentrate. Part of parenting is trying to promote the behaviours [you want],” she says. “Rather than nagging, let’s call it effective reinforcement.”
“I’m of the view that you’ve got to get them while they are young, rather than nagging at the back end, I try to modify behaviour when they are least resistant, when they are younger.”
A friend tells me that she has benefited from her own mother’s consistent reminders and standards. Now she’s weaving the old reminder magic on her two adorable boys, whose manners are lovely, not stiff, not obsequious, just polite.
Lara Munn, 24, is a social content manager at a creative agency. When I first met her in her first year at university, nagging no longer worked. It had, however, got her to where she needed to be.
She’d had an excellent nagger in the shape of her mum, Sonia, who took Lara to task at the beginning of year 11.
“She’d always nagged a bit but she really kicked me into gear for [years] 11 and 12 and drilled it into me that I had to stop leaving things to the last minute.
“I achieved a good ATAR, so props to mum,” says Munn.
Years ago, one of my own kids told me that she planned to make badges which said: “Nagging works.”
But when I reminded her of that this week, she looked at me blankly.
“That never happened,” she said.
This is good for a couple of reasons. Mostly we feel extreme guilt about nagging our kids. There is no need.
It does them good, at least that’s what the research says. And it turns out that they forget we ever did it.