Parenting Through the Debates: Nurtureshock

12 Apr

Author(s): Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman
Credentials: Writers
Genre: Evidence-based Parenting
Directed at: High-achieving parents; nerdy types
Thesis: “Instinct” is not necessarily the best rationale for making parenting decisions.

Happy meal version: The basic premise of Nurtureshock is that everything you thought you knew about parenting has been disproven or refined by scientific studies over the past twenty years. This book takes on a number of different parenting hot-points and raises questions about the prevailing wisdom. It does not exactly offer a “way” of parenting, but it does provide suggestions. The attentive reader will be able to modify her parenting based on the information in the book, but it isn’t prescriptive. More specifically:

Praise: Turns out, general praise for a child’s intelligence backfires and can make smart kids underperform. Specific, situational praise that focuses on effort is better. Bad: “You are so smart!” Good: “You must have tried really hard to get an A on that test.”

Sleep: Children need more of it than they’re getting, and a lack of sleep could be contributing to a lot of the so-called teenage problems of depression and defiance.

Authority: Children are most resistant to authority right before they become teenagers, and most teenagers actually get along well with their families. Teenagers see arguing with the parents as a positive sign that their parents are willing to listen to them. Negotiating within reason can actually strengthen a parents’ authority. Example: A child’s curfew is 11, but he is allowed to stay out later for a special occasion.

Race: Many families don’t draw attention to race because that’s the liberal, progressive thing to do. It backfires. Children who talk openly about race tend to have more interracial friendships.

Gifted Testing: It’s done way too early. Gifted programs are terrible at identifying gifted children. Intelligence is highly fluid and develops at different rates. If gifted testing is done at all, it shouldn’t be done until around third grade.

Siblings: Siblings don’t automatically teach children how to share and get along. A child’s relationship with his friends is a better indicator of how he will treat a sibling than the other way around. To get along, siblings need to think of each other like friends–because a friend can be lost.

Lying: All children lie. They start lying to make adults happy and they keep lying because they see adults doing it. Lying is an advanced skill and shows an ability to think abstractly. To keep kids from lying, emphasize that it will make you happy to know the truth.

Self-Control: Self-control is probably the best indicator of future academic and life success. Self-control can be taught through various means: check out the Tools of the Mind program.

Bullying: Bullying is a sign of social success, not marginality. The most popular kids bully the most. Educational children’s programs can actually increase bullying, because they focus a lot on undesirable behaviors only spend only a few minutes wrapping up and teaching a moral lesson. Little kids aren’t sophisticated enoguh to know that they’re supposed to ignore the bullying and take away the lesson.

Language: What matters for language development is what comes out of the child’s mouth, not what goes in. Pouring language into a child’s ears doesn’t aid her language development. Parents have to respond to noises that a child makes, either by verbally responding or, even better, by touching the child.

Verdict: This book presented some thought-provoking findings. It was highly readable and engaging. I came away convinced enough to alter some of my parenting behavior and to pay closer attention to my interactions with my daughter. However, the book does not always explore the possible slippage between correlation and causation in some of the studies it cites. It’s also worth noting that parenting books come out every few years or so that claim to change everything you thought you knew. On the whole, this book is highly recommended if you are interested in the latest research about children’s social and behavioral development. If you are looking for a parenting manual, you will have to keep looking.

Related books:

Brain Rules for Baby, John Medina
Mind in the Making, Ellen Galinsky
Tools of the Mind, Elena Bodrova
What’s Going on in There?, Lise Eliot
Bright from the Start, Jill Stamm

Parenting Through the Debates: I read the books, so you don’t have to.

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