Title: NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children
Authors: Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman
Published: Twelve, 2009
Genre: Parenting

Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman have been writing articles on parenting and developmental psychology for popular magazines like Times and The New Yorker for years. During this time they have slowly come to realize that much of what we believe about child rearing is not supported by recent research. Even the most common sense assumptions are often wrong, and even when we get the facts right we don't always apply them in an effective way. Their book NurtureShock collects some of their more interesting findings and adds in some more details than could be published in the magazine format. The core of this book is straight-out reporting of current research, and as the findings are often counter-intuitive, this is a very important book for any parent to read.

Unfortunately, while the book is full of good content, it is also written by yuppie popular-media journalists. It is often dumbed-down, overly fluffy, and it is clearly written by and for WASPs. It makes strong assumptions about the beliefs, values, social class, knowledge base, race, and attention span of its readers, which can be a bit overbearing at times. But you should read it anyway. It is a good review of some of the unpublicized high points in child development research, and it is well worth reading through some fluff in order to get to the meat.

Some of the findings covered in this book include research showing that praising children too much causes them to be less willing to experiment and take risks; that good self-esteem isn't correlated with much of anything, including good grades, career achievement, or good social interactions; that teaching kids not to lie is likely to teach them to lie better; that teenagers who argue with their parents are healthy teenagers; and that PBS may be more damaging to social behavior than Power Rangers. The authors do a good job of describing some of the research behind these findings, the theories developed from this research, and if you are still wanting more, they have an extensive bibliography in the back of the book.

Some of these lessons will be more useful than others. Pretty much any parent can benefit from knowing that most children don't get enough sleep to function well in school, but the chapter on race and racism is clearly written by and for white parents. Some of the information is interesting rather than practical; for example, most of us don't need to be told how to use parentese, but you should know why you use it and why it is good.

I am extremely happy to see some evidence based practice being presented for parents; unfortunately, a lot of the parenting books you find are still based on theory, not research. Seeing as how parenting is one of the most important things many of us do in life, it is criminal to ignore what we know in favor of what we suspect. I am somewhat disappointed that in order to reach a modern audience the authors found it necessary to add in anecdotes and parables for each chapter, but if that's what is necessary to get people to read the book, so be it.

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