A Window into Life in the Suburbs

"Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these." Luke 12:27 (NIV)

Monday, August 16, 2010

Nurtureshock: Why Everything We Think About Raising Our Children is Wrong

Nurtureshock is one of those books that should be read by everyone who has some kind of relationship with children. It's not really a parenting book although it will invariably lead to to some rethinking on a number of major parenting issues. It's intention is to dispel certain widespread myths about child rearing using some of the latest findings in educational and child psychology as well as neurobiology.

The book is divided into 10 chapters, dealing with a particular area of conventional wisdom which is called into question by the authors.

1. The Inverse Power of Praise. In this chapter, the authors points to the latest in neurobiological research indicating that children who are told that they're smart might actually cause them to underperform. Dr Carol Dweck of Stanford University argues that, "When we praise kids for their intelligence, we tell them that this is the name of the game: look smart and don't make mistakes."

2. The Lost Hour. Children need all the sleep they can get. Apparently most children around the world get an hour less sleep than they did thirty years ago. The result of which are lower IQ points, decreased emotional well-being, ADHD and obesity.

3. Why White Parents Don't Talk About Race. Contrary to what our politically correct police would like to think, children are not racially colour blind. A fact that I can personally attest to.

4. Why Kids Lie. We want our kids to be honest but apparently many of our strategies to teach truthfulness only lead to children becoming more adept at lying.

5. The Search for Intelligent Life in Kindergarten. This one was the least surprising to me... IQ tests given to preschool are an unreliable guide to a child's future intellectual development.

6. The Sibling Effect. Sibling rivalry is fairly commonplace. But, according to the authors, it's not how they fight that should concern parents or even how parents relate to each child that matters. What determines future sibling relations boils down to how well they play together and how well each child gets on with his/her best friend.

7. The Science of Teen Rebellion. The authors, based on the work of various researchers, observe that teens are hardwired to rebel and their need to argue with the adults in their lives is healthy sign of respect for their elders rather than disrespect. Contrary to all perception, the new generation of children aren't any more rebellious than their predecessors.

8. Can Self-Control Be Taught? Bronson and Merryman say yes. Results from schools using an effective classroom programme called the Tools have proven that motivation is a very big factor in more focused, successful learning.

9. Plays Well With Others. The shortcomings of modern day parenting and discoveries pertaining to what makes children aggressive and what doesn't. According to recent research by Professor Dodge of Duke University and another study from the University of Texas, corporal punishment doesn't necessarily lead to more aggression. In fact in certain ethnic households, aggression may wane over time in spite of corporal punishment.

10. Why Hannah Talks and Alyssa Doesn't. With so much money spent by parents in recent decades to accelerate their children's speech development, it doesn't seem like many of the gimmicks do the trick.

All in all, it's a good read and the authors keep it simple. Bronson and Merryman are both journalists so they get to the conclusion in each area of investigation, dropping suspenseful crumbs along the way, gradually building up to the bottom line. As I'm no expert in the field, I cannot vouch for the veracity or soundness of the findings. However, the book is well referenced (61 pages of referencing according to chapters) and I suppose if anyone wants to follow up on any projects mentioned throughout the book, the information is readily available. My impression is that much of it sounds like good o'l fashion common sense... with some scientific foundation thrown in for good measure.
My copy was located through the local city council library and I daresay you should be able to get hold of one through a library near you. Although I'm tempted to get my own copy now so I can underline and scribble all over it.
I recommend that fellow mums read it and engage with the ideas in it. Whether you end up agreeing with the authors, it's always fascinating to see what the latest thinking on important issues are.

Update: Made some corrections in the piece. 17.8.2010


  1. Thanks for sharing Lilian, it sounds like an interesting book. I'll look out for it at my local library.

  2. No worries, Jillian. It's my ambitious and meglomaniacal intent to get people reading my blog to read more.


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