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.

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10 replies
  1. jessica
    jessica says:

    A swim mom’s observations of raising an olympic swimmer along with her influence and support (she lives with her at Stanford!). I appreciate how the mother leaves the decisions up to the daughter, like should she swim for her high school team (no)….and she still made it to Stanford and the gold medal..
    I have not read the Little Girls book, but I did come across one of the recent athletes from Rio gym team (Ali I think it was) mention that she wonders all the time who she would be if she wasn’t a gymnast. I thought that the comment as a public person with her accomplishments is a little strange. I’m guessing she is very grateful for her success, but I don’t think it was her decision (her mom enrolled her at 2). Which as I’m typing, reminds me of a Taylor S. interview in which she explained she had to find the confidence to confront her mother at age 12 about stopping professional horseback-riding because she realized it was her mom’s dream for her, and not her own.
    People are going to get where they are headed, but more effectively and perhaps naturally if nurtured and independently supported in their own decisions. It all lends to self-confidence.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      That’s a great link. Thanks. There are tons of interviews with moms of exceptional swimmers. Most of it is fluff, but hidden between those sentences are some gems about the sacrifices families make. Part of being close to a mom is being able to get her attention away from siblings — so hard when there’s an exceptional performer in the family.


  2. Deidre
    Deidre says:

    Knowing what we know (homeschool community with all our experience and research) it is heartbreaking to watch kids suffer. Lack of sleep, no time with their parents, girls I know from gymnastics who staid shorter because the stress suppressed their growth hormone.

  3. Jessica from Down Under
    Jessica from Down Under says:

    Wow, I have done heaps of research on raising kids + education, but I always read it was a girl’s relationship with her father that mattered the most when it comes to self-esteem (I’m thankful that my husband is a great father to all of our kids, including our daughter). However, reading this post was very encouraging to me – I think I will see my relationship with my daughter with a slighter different nuance from now on. And I’m very glad she’s homeschooled…by me :)

  4. Karelys
    Karelys says:

    It takes time being a woman.

    It took me a looooong time and a lot of getting to know myself to say that with confidence and aplomb.

    Personally, I’m cyclical. I’m learning to make my plans to allow for biology to change and instead of fighting it, I ride the wave with it. It’s a lot like a baby deer learning to walk but I’m making progress while learning.

    I learned from my mom that getting older is a thing to celebrate. It has never made me afraid like it does more women. Her self confidence was tied to other things than youthful looks. So it didn’t bother her.

    It takes time to just be.

  5. Cáit
    Cáit says:

    When I was a little girl they had this thing: Take Our Daughters to Work Day. Looking back I don’t understand why the half of the moms who were housewives were so ok with this. Didn’t they feel insulted and undervalued?
    One mom we knew was a “trophy” wife, not my ideal picture of a woman exactly, but I loved her response which was to keep her daughter home and play tennis and ride horses to show her what her day as the wife of a rich man was like. Hahaha. Very subversive in a way…
    I hope I can make my daughter see the warmth in housewifery and the spiritual meaning, even if she does something else. I hope keeping us both in the home while she’s a child gives us a special feminine bond.

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      I thought take daughters to work was just an alternative to being in school? Thats how I experienced it, and I loved it ha. Silly looking back, but I loved the idea of skipping school to be in the ‘real world’.

  6. Caitlin Timothy
    Caitlin Timothy says:

    I’ve never thought about how a girl’s quality time with her mom is correlated with her self esteem, but I don’t know of very many exceptions to this. And ladies I know who had lots of quality time with their moms (especially those with moms who stayed home) almost always choose to be home with their children, regardless of their personalities. That’s really interesting.

  7. Kimberly
    Kimberly says:

    Some of the very best moments in my life were with my daughter when she was a teen. Understand her, talk to her, ask her – do not let the moments pass without savoring them.

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