Monday, March 15, 2010

Book Review: Nurtureshock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman

True, I don’t have kids. But I also don’t have dogs and I read Cesar’s Way, and I don’t cook but have read lots of food books. I am frequently forced to interact with children, and plus this book is almost more of a sociology/science book than a parenting book. I do plan to give it to a few friends who are parents, and if I were a parent there are certainly bits of advice in here I’d be taking, but it’s predominantly about parenting theories and then scientific studies done to see if they’re accurate (or not, mostly not) and why.

One issue I have with audiobooks is that I don’t get a table of contents. (I also don’t understand why I can’t get a photoinsert for histories/biographies but this book didn’t have one – that I know of.) But I did look up the ToC today so I could have a reasonable time writing this review. These are the topics the book addresses:

  • The Inverse Power of Praise
  • The Lost Hour – Sleep loss and its affects
  • Why White Parents Don't Talk About Race
  • Why Kids Lie - Most classic strategies to promote truthfulness just encourage kids to be better liars
  • The Search for Intelligent Life in Kindergarten – pre-K testing
  • The Sibling Effect
  • The Science of Teen Rebellion - arguing with adults is a sign of respect, not disrespect
  • Can Self-Control Be Taught? TOOLS classes
  • Plays Well with Others
  • Why Hannah Talks and Alyssa Doesn't

The ones I found most fascinating were about sleep (a 1-hour loss each night over a week makes 6th graders test on a 4th grade level. In other words, it has the same impact on their intelligence as lead exposure), lying (seriously, all kids lie. And when you teach them to tell white lies to be polite, they learn that all lying is okay), and the effectiveness of a school program for the very young called TOOLS which has an enormous impact on kids in nursery school and kindergarten. I actually first heard about this book though a front-page article in Newsweek titled “Is your baby racist” which was about the chapter on race. (No, babies aren’t racist, but while trying to figure out the world they do classify objects, including people, according to categories they can easily suss out, including by skin color. And classifications they don’t see all the time – including any race that doesn’t include their parents – gets classified as “unfamiliar”.) The lying chapter had also gotten a lot of press when the book first came out. Kids start lying as young as 4 though it’s not usually until 6 when they get effective (pre-6, they’ll often lie about something the parent saw and not get why that’s ineffective.) The next chapter also discusses why teenagers lie (and goodness, how often!) and how when they argue with their parents, it is actually a sign of respect. It means they think their parent might listen and they have a shot at convincing them. If they consider their parents unreasonable or inflexible, then there’s no benefit to arguing and instead they’ll stick to lying. The chapter on language acquisition has the simplest suggestions that are easy and very, very fast to add to ones repertoire. One other easy thing I might mention to my parent friends is how a lot of educational TV shows actually contribute to children’s antisocial behaviors. For instance a show about how an older brother and his friend exclude a little sister, while it does always have a good resolution, that’s only 2 minutes of the show while 20 minutes have been teaching the children new ways to exclude and insult siblings. Of course that’s not the intention of those shows, but that’s the effect. When they are imbalanced in the time devoted to each part of the story and the majority is spent on the poor behavior, that’s what’s been emphasized to small children.

One quibble about the audiobook: 3 times, the author (who was also the narrator) said things such as “while doing research for this audiobook we found….” No, you weren’t researching an audiobook. You were researching a book. Would you change the word from book to paperback book when the trade edition comes out next year? No. You also shouldn’t change it for the audiobook. Then not only is the text not exactly the same as in the print book, but it’s really jarring. Took me out of the listening experience and I lost a couple of minutes of comprehension while I was silently fuming about the pointlessness of that edit.

Otherwise, the book was fascinating and eye-opening. Several times I found myself gasping and saying “no way!” Half-way through I met up with three friends who are all mothers, and I just couldn’t stop talking about the book. Parenting instincts are pretty fallible, and now that there is a book that has analyzed, collated, and drawn inferences from a ton of scientific studies on different parenting theories, it seems like a no-brainer that this will be an easy primer for what to do and not to do to supplement the more conventional parenting guides. While Nurtureshock doesn’t tell you how to get your kids to sleep or when to be worried about late talking, it does tell you the consequences of children getting little sleep, and tips for how to encourage language acquisition (respond immediately when your baby makes a talking noise. Not for a cough or a giggle, but when a baby says “dat” or “oooo”.) I think this book will prove incredibly useful for years to come. As an added bonus unlike conventional parenting book, this one is also interesting and a good read.

This book is a part of the Audiosynced roundup of audio book reviews at Abby (the Librarian). She'll have a post April 1 with the full list.


Kristen said...

"I am frequently forced to interact with children." Me too. ::snicker:: Oh wait, I'm not one of the parents to whom you intend to give this book, am I? ;-) Sounds like there's some interesting stuff in there but also some "duh" stuff. Seriously, my kids were precocious liars and I know we've discussed the effect of tv (haven't we ? Or was that someone else?). Anyway, glad you enjoyed the read although I will admit I saw what you'd read and had a brief moment of "huh?" :-)

avisannschild said...

This sounds like a fascinating read, even for the childless among us! (I don't have any kids either.) I'm not that surprised to hear that educational shows sometimes backfire; I've wondered about that possibility from reading books for kids too.

Dana said...

This book sounds so interesting! Every one of the bullet-pointed topics sounds interesting to me, despite the fact that I don't have kids nor am I forced to interact with them ;) Thanks for putting this one on my radar!

Carin Siegfried said...

Wow Dana, how do you manage to not be forced to interact with children? That's impressive. It is funny that two of my three commenters so far are childless like me (or as I prefer to be called "child free!")

Jenny said...

I was fascinated by this book and found myself constantly wanting to talk about it too. Howe strange that they changed the words to "audio book", lol.