Do we really need another parenting book? Don’t we humans come pre-programmed with all the instinctual knowledge necessary to help our kids become bright, well-adjusted members of society? Ok, I’ll wait for those of you with kids to stop laughing before I continue…
Obviously, there are a lot of times when parents have to admit: I have no idea what I’m doing. That state of mind is “nurture shock.” We just muddle through with a combination of common sense, things we learned (positive and negative) from our own parents, and various other bits of knowledge that we’ve cobbled together.
I know I’ve read a number of parenting books and magazines myself: about teaching kids to read, or how to discipline them, or making a decision about home-schooling. The problem is that if you read enough, you’ll soon realize that basically you’re the one who has to decide which advice to follow, because for any given topic you’ll probably find support on both sides. From the amount of TV they watch to whether thumb-sucking is okay to when and how you should potty-train them, you get a buffet of options on each subject, with entire books devoted to them. It’s often very easy to be convinced by somebody’s anecdotal arguments on something, and then be equally convinced by the opposite side.
What sets NurtureShock apart is the science.
Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman didn’t set out to write a book about parenting, but sort of stumbled across it while researching a story for Time Magazine. They found that, at least when it comes to praising our kids, our instincts appear to be completely wrong. And they wondered: what else have we gotten wrong? Digging deeper, they found piles of scientific studies done about children, and spent three years investigating what really works and what doesn’t. The results are often counterintuitive and (unfortunately) completely opposite of what we do by “instinct.”
I can’t really do the book justice in one article because there’s just so much information. I could throw out some random statistics but it’s really all the research and background that makes it especially convincing for me. Bronson and Merryman hit a lot of critical topics: self-esteem, sleep habits, race, sibling rivalry, gifted kids, self-control, and language acquisition. Each chapter had at least one thing that surprised me; most had several. There are definitely several areas where I’m actively trying to change the way I raise my kids because of this book, and a couple where I’ve finally gotten some real confirmation that I’m doing the right thing.
Just to give you a small taste, I’ll share something from the second chapter, “The Lost Hour.” Worldwide, children are sleeping about an hour less than their counterparts thirty years ago. Bronson and Merryman tie this to poor performance in school, depression, and even obesity. They point out that, according to some scholars, “many hallmark traits of modern adolescence—moodiness, impulsiveness, disengagement—are also symptoms of chronic sleep deprivation.” For younger kids, an hour of sleep can be equivalent to losing two years worth of development. For older kids, lack of sleep can actually make you unable to recall positive memories.
Also, to give you an idea of the evidence backing up Bronson and Merryman’s writing, consider this: the actual text of the book is about 239 pages long. It’s followed by nearly twenty pages of endnotes, and then about forty more pages of references and sources (which are in addition to the many interviews they did). We’re not talking about the latest “science du jour,” as the authors put it. This is solid stuff.
I had only one significant complaint. In a few of the chapters, I felt like I was left unsure about what to do with the information. For example, in “Plays Well With Others,” which addresses bullying and other “antisocial” behavior, Bronson and Merryman show that it’s not just the rejected kids who resort to aggressive behavior—in fact, many of the most popular kids use relational aggression much more often. Teaching kids not to bully is, in fact, detrimental to their social status. But what they don’t say is is whether that’s a bad thing or not. Do I want my kid to have a lot of friends? Or is it preferable to let them be picked on? Is there a third option?
I know this stems from Bronson and Merryman’s desire not to create a “paint-by-numbers” parenting book. They would prefer to present the evidence and then allow us to decide for ourselves on a course of action. But there were a few cases where I wished they had given just a little more explanation or guidance. Most of the chapters were a little less ambiguous about what’s good for kids and what isn’t, but there were a few in which the answers were not so easily defined. Perhaps, then, my complaint isn’t necessarily about the book so much as it is that kids are variable creatures.
Since I started reading NurtureShock, I haven’t been able to shut up about it. I’m planning to pass it along to several parents and teachers, and I’ve been recommending it to my friends who have kids. I help select books at our local library, and I’ll be requesting that they purchase a copy right away. If you have kids or work with kids, you really ought to check this one out.
This is the sort of book that is covered with blurbs like “one of the most important books you will read this year,” “Alarming,” and “I feel like I’ve been smacked between the eyes with a two-by-four…” But now, having read NurtureShock, I’m sold. This is probably the most important book I’ve read this year. I’ll continue to read other books, and I’ll continue to recommend things that I like, but if you only read one thing I review on GeekDad this year, please make it this one. Before I was even through the first two chapters, I already had the urge to call a meeting with our school board to discuss it.
As a footnote, I learned about the publisher, Twelve Books, when I was looking up information on NurtureShock. It’s an interesting company, publishing no more than one book a month and seeking out quality material. They state that their goal is to publish books that “explain our culture; that illuminate, inspire, provoke, and entertain.” It’s admirable (and I’m sure very challenging), and while I haven’t read any of their other offerings yet, I certainly believe NurtureShock achieves that goal. Under full disclosure, Twelve Books sent me a free copy to review, but it was after I contacted them and requested one—if they had turned me down I was considering purchasing a copy anyway. As it is, this is a book I’ll probably buy a couple copies myself to give away.