In their book NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman examine hundreds of studies about children, and challenge many of the common perceptions parents have today.

I first heard about Po Bronson and his research when I read this article in the New York Magazine on the inverse power of praise. (Chapter one of the book is an extended version of this article).

This book is not a how-to parenting book. (Thank you!) The power of this book is in precisely the fact that it is not prescriptive, and gives very little application. It is an engaging collection of research of hundreds of studies that debunks much of the common thinking that parents hold today. From the introduction:

“Today, with three years of investigation behinds us, Ashley and I now see that what we imagined were our “instincts” were instead just intelligent, informed reactions. Things we had figured out. Along the way, we also discovered that those reactions were polluted by a hodgepodge of wishful thinking, moralistic biases, contagious fads, personal history, and old (disproven) psychology–all at the expense of common sense. “ (emphasis mine)

I did not find the studies necessarily shocking, and yet many I was still surprised at. I value being informed. A book such as this that gives solid scientific findings is one that is extremely invaluable to me as a parent.

Topics covered in NurtureShock:

1. Praise: The wrong kind of praise can negatively affect children. When praising children we should be completely honest and specific. Read the above linked article for this topic. Educators, I think, would find this chapter particularly helpful.

2. Sleep: This is perhaps the one I felt most validated in. Many people find it surprising that our kids go to bed at 7pm. While we try to be flexible for certain things, we do hold our children’s sleep as extremely important. This chapter reveals some surprising test results due to lack of sleep. Across the world (not just the US), children today are getting one hour less sleep a night than they did just thirty years ago. One hour less sleep a night caused children to test two grade levels below (6th graders testing at 4th grade level), and significantly increased the chance of childhood obesity. The information on teen sleep patterns was extremely interesting. I am definitely tucking that away for when our children reach that age.

3. Race: While we have convinced ourselves that putting our kids in multi-cultural environments will help them not segregate based on race, this is entirely unfounded. Research shows that some of the most multi-cultural schools also have the most segregation. Also, no matter what exposure to race a child has, it has been proven that a child will not think about people of differing races being equal if parents do not actually speak to them about it. Children do not understand the concept of everyone being equal. Parents should be specific. This resulted in some change in vocabulary for me. In fact, in Bible time we read that God loves everyone. Normally, we would have just repeated that phrase, but instead we explained it by saying God loves ____, and filled it in with specific races. Go ahead and talk about. Kids are not blind to race as some people think.

4. Lying: As parents we can actually be encouraging lying without even realizing it. Sometimes our wording, and even our practice, are actually teaching kids to lie instead of the opposite.

5. Intelligence Testing: Schools today are starting to test younger and younger to place children in gifted programs. There are even some preschools that test as young as 27 months to determine qualification for gifted programs. As a mom of a 27 month-old with slow verbal skills, this is troubling. To think that in some schools she would already be labeled just because she is not an early bloomer in speech is horrible. Research shows that over 70% of the time, these tests are not accurate predictors, and even flat out wrong, if performed before grade 3.

6. Sibling Rivalry: Interesting studies on how siblings relate together. Fighting, arguing, and normal sibling rivalry is okay as long as they also play together well. It is only when there are no positive moments to counter-balance the negative that there is a long-term effect on their relationship.

7. Teen Rebellion: Teens that argue with their parents and test boundaries do not feel that they have a bad relationship. Parents, on the other hand, felt that this arguing was an indication of a bad relationship. Parents who had definite boundaries but allowed their teens to discuss viable exceptions had fewer teen rebellion problems than parents who either had no boundaries at all, or never allowed the teen opportunity for exceptions.  I found it interesting how teens and their parents view conflict completely differently.

8. Self-control: Why this can actually be taught and that it might be the most important thing to teach children for both social and academic success. (Think the famous Stanford Marshmallow Test). Consider this: children who showed significant self-control in other areas also tested better on standard testing. They were not as prone to quickly fill in a blank or be led astray by the throw-off option on a multiple choice question. As a parent of a preschooler it just might be more worth my time to work on self-control than work on reading. Just a thought.

9. Kids that play well together: “How modern involved parenting has failed to produce a generation of angels.”  When to let kids resolve their own conflicts, when it is bullying, and when to step in. Also noteworthy is the extensive research on children’s TV programs and how they might be encouraging bad behavior.

10. Early Language Development: Baby Einstein actually is not helping your kids with language development, and sometimes is actually hindering it. It also had some helpful research on what actually does help language development and what does not.

Though there is no credit to God, I could not help thinking about how much this just made sense. Many of the concepts were actually biblical, though of course never addressed as such. While I might not agree on everything, I found the book extremely valuable and was given much food for thought. In the end, it really is just common sense.

Does any of this ring true to you? Let’s discuss in the comments!

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  1. Sounds like I need to add this to my reading list. I agree on the sleeping subject…we used to put our daughter to bed at 6 pm when she was little because she slept MUCH longer than if we put her to bed later. People thought we were crazy. She stays up later now and we’ve experimented with anywhere between 7pm and 8pm. After just getting back from our trip, we’re back to 7pm.

    I’m really curious about what the book says we as parents do to encourage lying…

    • Johanna says:

      Steph, I’ll have to go back and look at the book for more details but one thing was that when we come at a child in a disaproving tone (especially when they are really young and still at an age when truth is the norm) and say “Did you do that?” When we know already that they did. We encourage a lie because they sense that they might get in trouble.
      Also, because kids are such literalists, they think we are lying when we don’t view it as that. He gives an example of his wife telling a babysitter that his son was 6 when in fact he was not turning 6 for two more weeks. The mom was doing this as a way to tell the babysitter what types of interest he might have (a 6 year old boy). The boy sees that as a lie as he is not literally 6 yet. There were several other interesting things, but those are the two that come to mind right now.

  2. This just confirmed in my mind that I need to get Hope to bed earlier than I have been lately. She has “graduated” by default and poor planning on my part to her sibling teen bedtime, and she is still so young. :) She’s gonna loooove this!! :) And I will tell her that she can thank Mrs. Hanson. :)

    • Johanna says:

      OH, thanks, now I’m the bad guy! ha! I kept thinking how awesome our God is when I was reading about everything a child’s body and brains do while they are sleeping. Seriously amazing!

  3. Thanks for this review. I’ve never heard of this book until you mentioned it in your comments and I love reading about it here. I’ll definitely be putting this one on my list. Now to find the time to read and still get some sleep for myself…

  4. Definitely going to add this book to my reading list–was very intrigued just reading your review of it.

    I definitely agree with the intelligence testing for sure–though from a slightly different aspect. Even though our daughter who did need specialized services (and still currently receives such) did undergo early intelligence testing we have experienced firsthand the faultiness of such testing and have become increasingly concerned over the schools rush to administer such testing and then label students to put them in certain categories.

    Personally, from my experience and research, I strongly believe it has a lot to do with research surrounding test scores, certain special education/general education student ratios, classroom environments, etc. and that is one of the main reasons we are seriously considering alternate educational methods/setting for our special needs daughter.

    • Johanna says:

      I love hearing your perspective, Rachel. I do think that there is such a push for early testing and there are SO many factors that can throw off the results that it really is unfair to do it on children too young. From what he said in the book, there is hardly ever any retesting at later years, which is another reason that it just is not accurate. Once labeled (in either direction), always labeled. Not a good system. Also, some private schools test to get in, which means that is usually in kindergarten. Some kids don’t test well at that age because kids develop so differently in the early years. It puts some (especially non-verbal kids) at a huge disadvantage.

      I hope you find a good solution for your daughter–and I look forward to seeing what that is. :)

  5. From an educators perspective, I can tell a distinct difference between my students who get adequate sleep and those who do not. The difference is astounding.

  6. This sounds like a very interesting and informative book. I’ll have to check it out! Thanks!

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  1. […] NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. I wrote an overview of the book here. […]

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