I couldn’t stop reading the book Little Girls in Pretty Boxes. It’s about how terrible high-powered gymnastics is for girls.

There are a gazillion reasons it’s terrible, but the driving force behind this is that the girls are under a huge amount of pressure to reach the Olympics before they go through puberty. High, daredevil jumps make a champion, and once girls start putting on the weight of puberty, it’s almost impossible to do the jumps.

This means the girls are constantly in pain, because they can’t afford to stop training for every injury (they are almost always injured — they’d never be able to train). All the girls withdrew from school by the time they were within a few years of the Olympics. And this got me thinking about homeschooling.

There’s a whole contingency of kids who homeschool because they are in a time crunch. For example, if you want to play college sports, you need to train long hours, and that will interfere with school. And the more committed you are to your activity the less you want to do the time-wasting things people do in school, like roll call, assemblies, and so on.

When I finished the book, I wanted more. So I googled names of girls who died doing tricks.

On a whim I googled academic research about gymnastics. And I found a paper from University of Indiana. Here’s the opening:

Girls have a lower self-esteem than boys (Marcotte, Fortin, Potvin, & Papillion, 2002). Given this finding, much attention has been directed at determining why it is that girls have lower self-esteem than boys. Factors that affect a girls’ self-esteem include, but are not limited to, the following: adjusting to the onset of puberty (Marcotte et al., 2002), methods of coping (Byrne, 2000), less attention in the classroom, feelings of inadequacy at math and science (Angelo & Branch, 2002), physical appearance (Corbin, 2002), overall support system (Marcotte et al., 2002), and feelings of competency (Corbin, 2002). The best predictor of self-esteem for girls, however, is interaction and relationship with their mothers. Additionally, positive aspects of interactions such as intimacy, acceptance, and nurturance are related to higher self- esteem (Lackovic-Grgin and Dekovic, 1994).

Most of the self-esteem issues are attributed to the difficulties of girls adjusting to puberty. It’s much harder for girls than boys. The paper concludes that girls who play sports have higher self-esteem than girls who do not play sports. But girls who play sports at the elite level do not get the benefits of higher self-esteem from sports. This isn’t surprising after spending a whole day reading about psychologically and physically embattled gymnasts.

But the most interesting part of the paper is this: “The best predictor of self-esteem for girls, however, is interaction and relationship with their mothers.”  The paper goes on to make suggestions as to what the research indicates. Should girls play sports? Recreational sports?

But nowhere does the paper make recommendations as to how to have girls spend more time with their mother. The paper does say that intimacy, nurturing, and acceptance are markers for a positive mother-daughter relationship.

The whole paper points to taking girls out of school. They can spend more time playing sports and being with their mom, and less time having to deal with the social-emotional drama of going through puberty surrounded by largely unsupervised teens.

I’m always surprised by the places I find great arguments for homeschooling. And while I’ve always heard parents say time spent with their kids is the reason they homeschool, I have not read clear evidence that the time spent with parents is good for teens. I don’t have girls, but if I did, I’d be glad I was homeschooling them.