Review: NurtureShock by Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman

NurtureShock

This is honestly one of my favorite popular psychology books ever. I don’t have kids, but children amuse me, and they always do the weirdest things that seem to go beyond logic and reasoning. Bronson and Merryman ask some really interesting questions about child development and parenting (more of the prior than the latter) from a psychological perspective, and their narratives are delightful to read through. Also, this was my second time reading NurtureShock, and it was just as good as the first time!

Introduction

“Nurture shock,” as the term is generally used, refers to the panic – common among new parents – that the mythical fountain of knowledge is not magically kicking in at all.

Bronson – who has two kids – and Merryman – who ran a small tutoring program for kids – are journalists for Time Magazine. They got interested in where kids get their self-confidence from, and when they found out that telling kids that they’re smart actually undermines their self-confidence, the two journalists decided to pursue the science on child development even further. In NurtureShock, Bronson and Merryman explore a plethora of complex topics, such as the inverse power of praise; why white parents don’t talk about race; why kids lie; the sibling effect; and the science of teen rebellion.

Discussion

The first time I read NurtureShock was in high school – I like kids a lot, and I’d say that I’m pretty good at dealing with them. But we all know that kids are whimsical in that they don’t usually follow adult rules, so I was eager to learn their secrets. Enter NurtureShock! Bronson and Merryman are great at introducing the concepts for each chapter with case studies, whether it be with a hypothetical situation or with Bronson’s own kids. For example, on the chapter about sleep loss in children, we are introduced to Morgan Fichter, and get a detailed description of what she looks like, what her parents do, and all the extracurriculars she’s involved in. And Bronson frequently writes about changing his behavior after learning something new about child development.

I’m still an anxious parent. This morning, I tested [my son] on the way to school: “What happens to your brain, again, when it gets to think about something hard?”

“It gets bigger, like a muscle,” he responded, having aced this one before.

In addition, Bronson and Merryman have thoroughly done their research, and the quantity of data that they provide goes above and beyond most books I’ve read. For an investigation on gifted education programs, the two called the twenty largest public school districts in the U.S., and they even listed out all twenty schools in the book! Total dedication to proving to their readers that they actually did the work, haha.

I learned a lot of interesting tidbits from this book, including the following:

  • Kids who have permissive parents (who don’t set outright rules) lie more to their parents. Kids who have oppressive parents are often obedient… and depressed. And kids with parents who consistently enforce rules and have lots of conversations with the kids lie the least.
  • Kids who are taught that intelligence is not innate are able to improve their study habits and grades more than kids who think that intelligence is innate.
  • Kids don’t become obese due to TV-watching – sleep loss may be the more likely cause.
  • Kids develop color biases very early in life, and just having a diverse environment is not enough to eliminate the racial bias.
  • Babies need live human speakers to learn language from; baby DVDs don’t work.

Conclusion

NurtureShock is an interesting book on child development that showcases many of the prominent studies done in the lab and in communities. It’s less of a how-to book and more of a show-and-tell, but it’s intriguing regardless… Bronson and Merryman’s fantastic storytelling skills made this book an engrossing read, and I learned a lot from it. If you like kids or work with kids, I would highly recommend this book!

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4 thoughts on “Review: NurtureShock by Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman

  1. This sounds really interesting! I have no plans to have kids myself, but I’m interested in education and this sounds fascinating. Plus I can’t say no to a book with that mixes researchs with interesting anecdotes 🙂

    • I think the research/anecdote mix is critical in me liking/hating non-fiction works. This one’s well done in that sense! And if you find any good education books, let me know – I’m always on the lookout for more! 🙂

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