Nurture Shock

New Thinking About Children

Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman (Twelve, New York, 2009)


This book offers evidence that many popular beliefs about childrearing today are wrong. For example, despite the long popularity of self-esteem building, there is now evidence that praising children too much and too generally (e.g. "You're intelligent"), can actually have the opposite effect. Some strong evidence indicates that praising children's specific effort is more effective in encouraging them to try harder.

Although early brain growth is fostered by a richly stimulating environment, there is also evidence that a busy and stressful schedule that interferes with kids getting enough sleep has very negative effects on their learning as well as their emotional well-being. (As pointed out in Real Child Safety sleep deprivation has the same negative effect on adult performance as being legally drunk.) The effect is even worse for teens, so some modern high schools have changed their daily start to an hour later, with significant improvements in scholastic performance, mood and road safety.

Another interesting finding is that healthy teens argue with their parents as a form of negotiation. Parents who are inflexible - "these are the rules, no arguments and no exceptions!" have kids who pretend to obey but lie and sneak to get what they want. Inflexible parents can't handle negotiation, and suffer more stress than parents who are willing to be flexible. The popular "Baby Einstein" and similar videos have also been discredited by careful research.

Many other popular myths are exploded, but one disappointment is that although the authors discuss the ineffectiveness of driver's education and drug abuse prevention courses, they don't even mention the evidence that anti-sex education is ineffective and sometimes has the opposite effect. (See Judith Levine's Harmful to Minors for a thorough discussion of that evidence.)

The authors describe the nurture paradox: it may be counter-intuitive, but kids don't always benefit from more and more parental attention/intervention. The authors also cite evidence for what they call the Fallacy of Similar Effect (what works for adults isn't necessarily good for kids), and the Fallacy of the Good/Bad Dichotomy (some things aren't always and necessarily either good or bad).

There are many more valuable revelations for parents. This book is well worth the investment!