NurtureShock - Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman

I read about NurtureShock in a Powell's newsletter. It caught my eye for two reasons: one, it was about parenting and I thought it might make a good book to review for GeekDad. Two, it was written by Po Bronson, who also wrote What Should I Do With My Life?, a book that I'd read several years ago and really enjoyed. So I looked up the publisher, and discovered Twelve Books, a company that only publishes one book a month, trying to focus on books that will really engender discussion on a national level. That sounded cool, too, so I wrote to them to see if I could get a review copy for GeekDad, and they sent me a copy.

The book essentially compiles a lot of different scientific research about children from the past thirty years or so. It turns out that there have been lots of studies done, but so much of it flies under the radar because only the big flashy stuff gets reported in the news ... and there's so much information that even the big flashy stuff tends to get lost in the flood of the Next Big Thing. So Bronson and Merryman spent about three years investigating all sorts of things, and then wrote about all the places where our parenting "instincts" seem to have failed us.

This is the sort of parenting book I wish I'd had when I was starting out; but even so, there's plenty in there that still applies (or will apply when they're older). I haven't stopped talking about this since I started reading it, and I may even write up brief summaries of each chapter for our local newspaper. It's eye-opening enough that I won't hesitate to recommend it to anyone who has kids, is planning to have kids, or works with kids.

Here's a brief rundown of each chapter, mostly for my own benefit. The summaries aren't going to convince you of anything; you'll need to read the book to get all the science, but this list can at least serve to show you what's included in the book.

1. Praising kids may actually make them less motivated. Kids, particularly bright girls for some reason, give up more easily when told they're smart, and will then pick the easier tasks if given the choice. Praise needs to be specific, and praising for effort gets better results than praising for smarts.

2. Kids who don't sleep enough do worse in school, suffer from depression, and can even become obese. Teenagers have a physiological need to stay up later and get up later, and making them get up for school early in the morning is just a bad idea.

3. Putting a kid in a racially diverse setting makes them more racist, not less, unless you actually talk about it in very specific ways. White parents are apparently particularly bad at addressing this issue in the U.S.: the probability that a white teenager will have a best friend of another race is only about 8%.

4. Almost all kids lie, and most parents can't tell the difference (even the ones who swear they know their kid well enough to know when they're lying). Also, we're sending mixed signals about lying and honesty which only makes things worse. The story of George Washington and the cherry tree is much more effective at promoting honesty than the story of the Boy Who Cried Wolf.

5. Intelligence is quite variable in younger kids, and testing for "gifted" kids at kindergarten and never re-testing is ineffective. It locks in lots of kids who are then below average by third grade, and excludes plenty of kids who are above average by then.

6. Having a sibling doesn't teach you to be a better friend; rather, being a good friend then teaches you to be nice to your siblings. Most books and TV shows that supposedly teach you to get along with your siblings actually encourage sibling rivalry, because they teach that fighting with siblings is the norm.

7. Teenagers lie more than we think; parents who think they know when their teens are lying are wrong. Also, what we think of as rebellion (arguing with parents, for instance) is often actually a sign of respect. There's also some other things about the reasons teens engage in risky behavior and what to do about it.

8. Self-control can be taught, and is actually a really important factor in learning. The "Tools of the Mind" curriculum has had tremendous results in reducing problem behavior in preschools and kindergartens, and kids can actually play on their own with very little adult intervention for an hour at a time.

9. Bullying is not necessarily a sign that a child has no social skills. In fact, the most effective bullies are ones who are good at reading social cues; and the most popular kids tend to be the most relationally aggressive. I'm not sure what the take-home message was from this chapter, but positive and negative are often a little harder to define than we'd like to think.

10. Language acquisition works best when: multiple adults say the same word; the child can see the adult saying the word; adults respond to babbling through touch or verbally; adults talk about what the child's attention is already on, rather than what we think they might be saying. Part of this is related to the study a few years ago that said, as far as learning language goes, babies are better off watching American Idol than Baby Einstein videos.

Again, this is a book I highly recommend. If you read nothing else that I've reviewed this year, please consider this one. If NurtureShock can inspire conversation about kids and parenting on a large scale, it could make a tremendous difference in how the next generation grows up.

Fed to jonathan's brain | October 09, 2009 | Comments (0)


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