Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Book Review: NurtureShock (Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman)

2010 is looking to be a very dry year when it comes to books read! To date I think I might have gone through 5? books... at this time last year I was probably up to a 30+ count!

I'm just not feeling the reading pull right now.

In general, the number of serious non-fiction books I read is pretty low: I greatly prefer to read and escape this world, not to get mired more into it... However, every once in a while my interest is piqued enough to nudge me out of my comfort zone. In fact, my recent additions to my to-read list have been non-fiction works.

Back in February, I picked up NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman (no we are NOT preggers!) and found it to be a valuable read. Here's a brief review, chapter-by-chapter.

1. The inverse power of praise [Sure, he's special. But new research suggests if you tell him that, you'll ruin him. It's a neurobiological fact.]
This struck close to my heart, for many reasons. The key takeaway here is to praise the effort, not the result, and to be sincere in your praise. Fear of appearing stupid / making mistakes keeps intelligent kids from trying new things and expanding their abilities - trust me, I know ALL about that!

2. The lost hour [Around the world, children get an hour less sleep than they did thirty years ago. The cost: IQ points, emotional well-being, ADHD, and obesity]
It was interesting to read how something simple like changing the start time of schools has helped increase IQ points and reduce teenage angst! Research shows that teenagers function differently than infants and adults when it comes to sleep patterns: adapt to this fact, and you have a ebtter chance of having a better-adjusted kid.

3. Why white parents don't talk about race [Does teaching children about race and skin color make them better off or worse?]
This was an eye-opening chapter. Its bottom line: children aren't blind, and will categorise things and people into obvious groups, so it's better to acknowledge and discuss race early on than to pretend skin color differences don't exist.

4. Why kids lie [We may treasure honesty, but the research is clear. Most classic strategies to promote truthfulness just encourages kids to be better liars]
Think about it: kids are taught that they are expected to lie ("Oh grandma, I *love* the brown and green sweater you knitted me!"), and often get punished for telling the truth (usually when they tell-tale on another kid). Interestingly, research shows kids lie to keep us happy (and keep themselves out of hot water); it's also a sophisticated interaction skill.

5. The search for intelligent life in kindergarten [Millions of kids are competing for seats in gifted programs and private schools. Admissions officers say it's an art: new science says they're wrong, 73% of the time]
Early IQ points and other results of intelligence/abilities tests administered to too-young children will return many false results. In fact, "... if you picked 100 kindergerteners as "gifted", by third grade only 27 of them would still deserve that categorisation. You would have locked out 73 other deserving students ..." Studies show that it's only when kids are in about 3rd grade -- when children are expected to reason through sums, to read for comprehension -- will their IQ points be indicative of their final adult scores.

6. The sibling effect [Freud was wrong, Shakespeare was right. Why siblings really fight]
This chapter looked at research questioning the belief that onlies miss out on social interaction skills compared to those from a family with 2 or more kids. It also looked at the interaction between siblings -- turns out that the best way to get siblings to play well together is to focus not on the "you're his/her brother/sister therefore you must love/play with him/her" familial ties, but on facilitating the building of an actual friendship between the siblings. It turns out that a very good predictor of how well an older child is going to behave towards his/her new sibling is determined by how well he/she interacts with his/her best friend!

7. The science of teen rebellion [Why, for adolescents, arguing with adults in a sign of respect not disrespect -- and arguing is constructive to the relationship, not destructive]
Did you know that a household with no rules / permissive parents implies to their kids that they (the parents) don't care about them? Teens lie all the time, and often will occasionally slip up on purpose in order to get caught, scolded, and assured that their parents care. I found it interesting that there wasn't much difference between the number of parent/child conflicts in a Western vs Asian household: Western kids tend to argue over parents' authority to set rules; Asian kids over the rules themselves.

8. Can self-control be taught? [Developers of a new kind of preschool keep losing their grant money -- the students are so successful they're no longer "at-risk enough" to warrant further study. What's their secret?]
Looks like introducing the concept of planning ahead does wonders in helping kids sustain interest in activities that might otherwise grind to a bored halt, or elicit disruptive behaviour because because they are bored. Rather stifle spontaneity and creativity, having roles assigned, understood and planned out beforehand helps sustain kids' interest in roleplaying.

9. Plays well with others [Why modern involved parenting has failed to produce a generation of angels]
Did you know that education shows like Arthur and Clifford the Big Red Dog might harm / promote violence a lot more than "violent" shows like Power Rangers? This is because often the shows tend to feature bad behaviour for most of the episode, and resolution of the problem / modeling of good behaviour only occurs in the last few minutes. Thus, the child is more like ly to parrot the behavior he sees a lot of, rather than thinking through the moral of the story.

10. Why Hannah talks and Sarah doesn't [Despite scientists' admonitions, parents still spend billions every year on gimmicks and videos, hoping to jump-start infants' language skills. What's the right way to accomplish this goal?]
I found this a particularly interesting chapter. It turns out that incessant talking at infants might not be the way to go to encourage linguistic proficiency. Instead, parents that provide feedback, that produce reacting/confirming/encouraging sounds in response to the infant's gurglings and babblings, will have more language-proficient babies. Identifying what it is that catches a child's eye, commenting on it, and paraphrasing it a few different ways has also been found to be useful. The uninteractive Baby Einstein videos? Not been proven to help with language proficiency, so don't bother!

The style of the book is not stodgy, and very readable. This isn't a research piece: it's more like an overview of current/recent research, with a pretty good write-up of ramifications of these results on conventional child-rearing assumptions. Not being a parent myself, the contents of this book were nice-to-know things-to-keep-in-mind: for actual parents, I hope that reading this book would help give them the confidence to break free of norms, and help truly nurture their children into well-balanced adults who can reach or even go beyond their potential.

Disclosure: This review is 100% my unsolicited opinion! Should you use the link to and purchase this book, I'll earn some money from the sale -- but only if you purchase something, and it would paying the commission, not you. Cheers!

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