Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Book Review: NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children, by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman

NurtureShock:  New Thinking About Children
by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman
Twelve, an imprint of Grand Central Publishing, Hachette Book Group
327 pgs

You know how parents often lament that we need an instruction manual for raising our kids, or that upon leaving the hospital they must have forgotten to give us "the book" on what the hell to do?

We can't say that anymore.  Because the manual is here, in the form of Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman's NurtureShock:  New Thinking on Children. 

I'm exaggerating, of course.  (Kinda.)  But what I'm not kidding about is that while I have read my share of parenting and child development books, this one is at the top of those that are absolutely excellent and worthy of much acclaim.

Finally, we have answers (or, at least many a study - for this book is chock-full of studies galore) to all the pertinent, puzzling questions and issues that make parents' hair turn gray or fall out completely.   Questions like these (the bolded items are taken verbatim from the book jacket):

- Why the most brutal person in a child's life is often a sibling and how a single aspect of their preschool-aged play can determine their relationship as adults;

We've been dealing with a lot of fighting between Betty and Boo, and it's been a bit challenging.  This chapter was eye-opening.  Of course it makes sense that they will fight and take their aggressions out on each other.  They do this because of the realization that neither one of them is going anywhere; you have your sibling for life, as opposed to a friend who would abandon you if you get into a fight. 

- When is it too soon - or too late - to teach a child about race? Children in diverse schools are less likely to have a cross-racial friendship, not more - so is school diversity backfiring?

I really wished I had read this chapter back in the spring when I was wrestling with the issues of race with Boo. "Shushing children when they make an improper remark [about race] is an instinctive reflex, but often the wrong move.  Prone to categorization, children's brains can't help but attempt to generalize rules from the examples they see .... But shushing them only sends the message that this topic is unspeakable, which makes race more loaded, and more intimidating.

Young children draw conclusions that may make parents cringe, even if they've seen a few counterexamples.  Children are not passive absorbers of knowledge; rather, they are active constructors of concepts .... The brain's need for categories to fit perfectly is even stronger at age seven than at age five, sp a second grader might make more distortions than a kindergarten to defend his categories.  To a parent, it can seem as if the child is getting worse at understanding a diverse world, not better." (pg. 62)

This is exactly, exactly what we were dealing with earlier this year with Boo.  I was blaming the autism.  Maybe in this case it was just ... normal. 

- Millions of families are fighting to get their kids into private schools and advance programs as early as possible.  But schools are missing the best kids 73% of the time - the new neuroscience explains why.

- Why are kids - even those from the best of homes - still aggressive and cruel? The answer is found in a rethinking of parental conflict, discipline, television's unexpected influence, and social dominance.

The television piece was especially interesting to me, and it's not what you would think (kids being exposed to too much violence on TV, etc.)  I'll be the first to admit that Betty is a little hooked on her television programs.  She had a situation in camp this summer that necessitated a punishment - so we took away her television privileges for a week.  Her behavior improved, and we haven't had any instances of conflict with the other camper since.  Not saying this was a direct relation, but I'll be using that one again.

In NurtureShock, a study was referenced about this:  "The more educational media the children watched, the more relationally aggressive they were.  They were increasingly bossy, controlling, and manipulative.  This wasn't a small effect.  It was stronger than the connection between violent media and physical aggression. 

Curious as to why this could be, Ostrov's team sat down and watched several programs on PBS, Nickelodeon, and the Disney Channel.  Ostrov saw that, in some shows, relational aggression is modeled at a fairly high rate.  Ostrov theorized that many educational shows spend most of the half hour establishing a conflict between characters and only a few minutes resolving that conflict. 'Preschoolers have a difficult time being able to connecti nformation at the end of the show to what happened earlier .... It is likely that young children do not attend to the overall 'lesson' in the manner an older child or adult can, but instead learn from each of the behaviors shown.'" (pg. 180)

- Parents are desperate to jump-start infant's language skills.  Recently, scientists have discovered a series of natural techniques that are astonishing in their efficacy - it's not baby videos, sign language or even the richness of language exposure.  It's nothing you've heard before.

There is also a chapter titled "The Inverse Power of Praise" which was incredibly interesting about how telling a child that he or she is smart can actually be detrimental as one's academics become more challenging. "Emphasizing effort gives a child a variable that they can control .... They come to see themselves as in control of their success.  Emphasizing natural intelligence takes it out of the child's control, and it provides no good recipe for responding to a failure."  (pg. 15)

This resonated with me because since day one, I've been telling Betty that she is "pretty AND smart." We've always tried to emphasize the notion of "doing your best" whenever she is nervous about a quiz or a homework assignment, but I think I am going to be more cognizant of that now. 

I should have started this post with what Bronson and Merryman mean by "nurture shock."  It "refers to the panic - common among new parents - that the mythical fountain of knowledge is not magically kicking in at all." (pg. 6)

Or, in my words, it's the "Oh, f%@#! We left the friggin' manual at the hospital!" feeling. 

NurtureShock is a transformative book.  Truly.  It delivers on what it promises to: some New Thinking on Children.  It has certainly made me think differently about my kids and my parenting style. 

I think it is a must-read for every parent (especially parents of preschoolers or elementary-school aged kids), every teacher and every child care provider.  I honestly want to buy a copy of this and leave it anonymously for the woman who runs the day care/before and after school program/summer camp that Betty and Boo are enrolled in. (I'm not much of a fan of hers, truth be told.  I think she has some old-fashioned notions, let's just leave it at that.) 

Basically, anyone who comes into contact with kids should be required to read this book.  It is that important.  It is that good.  I borrowed this from the library but there's the strong possibility I might buy it.  In the meantime, I will be recommending it to everyone I know - starting with you. 

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.


Michelle (Red Headed Book Child) said...

Thank you! I've been curious about this book. I too have read my share of parenting books and try to seek as much knowledge as possible about this strange little toddler beast in my home!

Jenny said...

I loved this book too!!! I have an ARC that I kept and will definitely be reading again! I've managed to take a few of the things I learned and incorporated them into the parenting classes I teach! =)

Lisa said...

I had the same reaction, every parent and teacher should read it. I read a lot of it outloud to my husband as well.

Amy said...

Wow, sounds like a fantastic and informative book. If I ever change my mind and have kids I'll be looking for a copy :)

Anonymous said...

This is going on my parenting wish list.

Kim said...

I really liked this book too. It was a nice twist on parenting books and gave me lots of food for thought. Great review.