NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children

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In their newest book, NurtureShock, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman present evidence to debunk much of our accepted thinking about children. For instance, that praise is always good (it isn’t) or that kids just don’t lie (four-year olds apparently lie once every hour).

The book opens with an amusing story about a doorman at a certain nightclub in the late 1960s who looked a lot like Cary Grant and proceeds to relate this to the authors’ underlying assumption for ‘why our instincts about children can be so off the mark’. Not to worry – the rest of the book’s thought process isn’t as seemingly outlandish as this one.

NurtureShock is divided into ten chapters: The Inverse Power of Praise, The Lost Hour (the importance of sleep), Why Parents Don’t Talk About Race, Why Kids Lie, The Search For Intelligent Life in Kindergarten (the new science on determining who the gifted children are), The Sibling EffectThe Science of Teen RebellionCan Self-Control Be Taught?, Plays Well With Others, Why Hannah Talks and Alyssa Doesn’t.

Some of the “new thinking” laid out in the book aren’t really new at all (i.e. that children who lose at least an hour of sleep daily also lose IQ points and are more likely to suffer from ADHD or be obese). Other chapters left me at a loss as to how to deal with the new science on bullying or talking to children about race for example. Despite these, there are plenty of little gems of wisdom we can glean from the book (no spoilers here). Bronson and Merryman pull out both old and new science, as well as results from researches conducted on schools and universities from all over the world (the Philippines has a special mention), to support much of the traditional-thinking-breakers in the book.

Overall, it has the feel of Malcom Gladwellian sociopop minus the sensational stories. The evidences challenging common assumptions about children are definitely convincing (I have now revised the way I praise my four-year old). Parents, would-be parents and everyone within a relational distance of two degrees to a child should read this book and be enlightened about the nurture factor of how children’s behaviors, personality and worldview are shaped.

While I have to say both my husband and I loved this book the skeptic in me has to point out that “progressive thinking” does not always replace “traditional thinking” (experience tells me they often go hand in hand) and that what research does is provide a statistical probability or snapshot for the majority – there are exceptions to the rule. Parents should always still trust their instincts.

(On an interesting sidenote, NurtureShock is from the publishing company, TwelveBooks – itself a company challenging common assumptions in the publishing world through its commitment to publish works by authors who have a “unique perspective and compelling authority”, publishing no more than one book a month. Of 30 hardcovers it has published, 15 made it to the New York Times bestsellers list.)

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