switterbug (Betsey)'s Reviews > NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children

NurtureShock by Po Bronson
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's review
Feb 26, 2011

it was amazing

Parenting books are ubiquitous. How to sift through and determine which are worthy? I have a teenage daughter and have read quite a few. Even when I thought I was impressed, there was always something nagging at me about them. I determined that many of the books had an outside or hidden agenda, which was to socialize parents according to a specific sheep-herding mentality. Often, a social consciousness or a reaction to a negative social consciousness about raising children informed these "manuals." In other words, the science behind the thinking was weak--they were often politically charged or reactionary.

The blurbs about this book intrigued me, but I was also skeptical--until I read the first chapter on the inverse power of praise. Parents and guardians--just get ye to a bookstore and read the first chapter. I think you will be galvanized by its immediacy and logic (as well as back-up data) and it will inspire you to continue. It all clicked when I read about our praise-junkie tendencies, and how it has a paradoxical effect. The authors never condescend to us; they maintain that all of us want to make the best and most informed decisions. For instance, most of us start telling our babies, from the cradle "You are so smart" as almost a mantra of parenting. The authors do not criticize positive praise--they are revealing the data for specific types of praise. Telling a kid he or she is smart rather than specifically praising them for their efforts will eventually backfire. The child will have a tendency to not put out a lot of effort when they are challenged because they are stymied by the feeling that they have to stay smart, or that they must be NOT smart if they can't solve a problem or puzzle. Telling a kid (s)he is smart is praising an innate feature that is out of the child's control. Praising them for each genuine effort (whether they solved a problem or not) will have a better outcome. I cannot convey to readers the way that these authors channel and support this information--the statistical data and the entire beautiful logic of it--you must read it for yourselves.

The chapter on race relations also woke me out of a deep slumber of complacency. Too often, parents try to teach their kids equality just by placing them in diverse environments or showing them videos of multicultural friendships and cooperation. The book explicated a longitudinal study done by Dr. Bigler in Austin, Texas that revealed the lack of actual parent/child discussion on racial equality. That is the key ingredient to integration. Silence is not golden--(silence is black and white, and never the twain shall meet)--it is the wrong kind of colorblind. Just read this chapter and it will open your eyes.

Each section is such a wake-up call to parenting that I found myself reflecting on the blind spots in my own methods--not in an immolating way, but rather in an "aha!" manner. It isn't guesswork or just someone's opinion. The longitudinal studies, ongoing tests, data compilation, and control studies are explicit. But, more than that, you will feel a light bulb go off--it is seriously the most intrepid book I have ever read on parenting. No exaggeration. I can apply the book's information to my own parenting experiences and trials and realize how on the mark these studies are.

There is a chapter on sleep--its bearing and consequences on child performance, on obesity, and on mood. This section alone is worth the price of the book. I learned which parts of the sleep cycle are integral to the storage of which information. They describe the parts of the brain being affected when information is received and when sleep is disrupted. But, more importantly, the authors lay out the pitfalls of losing just 15 minutes or an hour of sleep--so many teenage problems are associated with this that some trailblazing schools are finally arranging the hours of education based on these studies. But more schools need this call to action. And we need to encourage a positive sleep pattern with our children. I know this sounds de rigueur and obvious. But this chapter on sleep is way more comprehensive than anything I have read before, and profound. Almost everything in the quality of your children's lives depends on it.

One of my favorite sections was the one that is like a riptide into everything you thought you knew about your child's language acquisition. Baby Einstein? Fuhgettaboutit. And don't try teaching your children a foreign language by popping in a Spanish DVD and parking them in front of the TV. Not going to happen. As a matter of fact, it will have a deleterious effect. A child needs a "live" person to learn. Additionally, it is the call and response between parent and baby that is the key to increasing their vocabulary and comprehension. Baby Einstein videos are like disembodied voices that do absolutely zip for their education. Sesame Street in Spanish is just as ineffective. Please read the chapter--the whole controversy is revealed when the studies proved that these baby videos are empty and hollow forms of education.

Perhaps my personal favorite is the chapter on teen rebellion. I recognize the arguing and lying of children in a whole new way now. How and why children cultivate what we think of as egregious behaviors usually stems from a psychologically astute and desirable place in their hearts and growth. It is the same with arguing. We need to shed our preconceptions and outmoded concerns about teen compliance, obedience, and integrity and understand the necessary steps in their development. There is a paradox about child/teen lying--it is expected, but it still must be dealt with.

And there is more--sibling rivalry, IQ testing, testing for elite schools at an early age, self-control, and playing well with others are covered immaculately.

Yes, it will blow the lid off, turn upside down just about everything previously advocated in parenting books. But not in a confounding way. That is an important ingredient to consider. This book, the way I perceive it, is not intended to upset or horrify you or derail your parenting experience. (Although, by its very nature it does derail previous long-held concepts, but in a compassionate way.) As a matter of fact, it provided clarity into numerous bogus concepts and the pious conditioning that we have been hanging onto for years. Additionally, it offers specific practices and interventions that can be measured rather swiftly in your own home with these changes to your personal parenting skills. As much as this book "shocks," it is not intimidating or finger-pointing at parents (although it does point a finger into disingenuous studies). The accessible and engaging flow of narrative is dotted with levity, lightness, and always benevolence. I read this book in just a few sittings and I retained the information well. It is easy to go back and reference what you read, as the chapters are laid out in an explicit, user-friendly manner.

Slide your other parenting books to the side of the shelf and place this one squarely in the middle. I acknowledge this book as a parenting imperative. Read it and leap.

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