Saturday, January 23, 2010

Nurture Shock

NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children

NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children 

My Review

This is the first book I have read with "pre-release" and embargo notices slapped all over. The back cover and the inside title page has a stern warning that begins
"No material from Nurture Shock may be quoted, cited, or otherwise used prior to the book's publication date of September 3, 2009..."
The table of contents does not have the chapters numbered, and so on...

Excellent book that covers a wide range of topics, all on children and parenting. Read with an open mind, and be aware of the illuminating power of as well as the limitations of research.

This is a book that's very broad in its coverage. It attempts to cover, in one chapter each, an aspect of child development, citing plenty of research done in recent times to support arguments and theories put forward. Each chapter covers a topic - confidence, sleep, lying, racial attitudes, intelligence, sibling conflict, teen rebellion, self-control, aggression, gratitude, and the acquisition of language. Existing theories are explained, and new emerging research is cited and used to explain each topic. The wide variety of topics covered also means that parents will have plenty of material to go over, irrespective of how old their children are, and while teenagers are not likely to pick this book up, it would help them also a lot.

A note of caution. Just as new research and advances in neuroscience are contradicting and overturning some long held beliefs about children and child development, it is possible that subsequent research in the coming years may disprove, correct, or maybe even validate some of the theories emerging today and outlined in this book. So, an open mind is really called for here. Know past theories, read about the current research, and try and not be dogmatic about what you accept and what you reject. And at the end of the day, parenting is a lot about patience, something that children are exceptionally adept at sucking out of parents.

The title of the book is explained in the Introduction itself -
"'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."

There seems to be an overabundance of writing these days on what it takes to excel, on talent, genius, and the like. 'Outliers' (see my review) by Gladwell is one recent popular example.
The first chapter in this book, "The Inverse Power of Praise", covers this topic from a slightly different but related angle, when the authors write about the difference between praising innate talent and praising effort.
"Emphasizing effort gives a child a variable that they can control," she explains. "They come to see themselves as in control of their own success. Emphasizing natural intelligence takes it out of the child's control, and it provides no good receipe for responding to a failure." ... "those who think that innate intelligence is the key to success begin to discount the importance of effort. [italics] I am smart, the kids' reasoning goes; [italics] I don't need to put out effort.

The chapter on lying could be the most uncomfortable for parents, since it raises uncomfortable questions about how often, why, and when children lie. If there is an upside to a child's lying, it could be that:
"A child who is going to lie must recognize the truth, intellectually conceive of an alternate reality, and be able to convincingly sell the new reality to someone else. Therefore, lying demands both advanced cognitive development and social skills that honesty simply doesn't require."
Some comfort. Children use lying in different ways too - as children to avoid punishment, by school age it includes empathy and manipulation, in elementary school as a coping mechanism.

For a broad overview of where the academic landscape and literature is in the area of child development, this is perhaps one of the best books on the market.

Also recommended is Buy, Buy Baby: How Consumer Culture Manipulates Parents and Harms Young Minds (my review)

© 2010, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.