Thursday, October 5, 2023

10 Things I Learned from "NurtureShock" by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman

I absolutely love reading parenting books, and "Nurtureshock" by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman is a new favorite. An astounding amount of research went into the creation of this non fiction book, as well as the studies that the book is based upon. There are so many interesting chunks of wisdom in "NurtureShock". Keep reading to find out ten things I learned from "Nurtureshock" by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. 


by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman

goodreads // amazon // library

In a world of modern, involved, caring parents, why are so many kids aggressive and cruel? Where is intelligence hidden in the brain, and why does that matter? Why do cross-racial friendships decrease in schools that are more integrated? If 98% of kids think lying is morally wrong, then why do 98% of kids lie? What's the single most important thing that helps infants learn language? NurtureShock is a groundbreaking collaboration between award-winning science journalists Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. They argue that when it comes to children, we've mistaken good intentions for good ideas. With impeccable storytelling and razor-sharp analysis, they demonstrate that many of modern society's strategies for nurturing children are in fact backfiring--because key twists in the science have been overlooked.
Nothing like a parenting manual, the authors' work is an insightful exploration of themes and issues that transcend children's (and adults') lives ( from

Ten Things I Learned from "NutureShock"
Book Review and Discussion

1. Praise for intelligence backfires

This first knowledge bomb is one I have heard before, but the "Nurtureshock" authors, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, provided so much context around the information, that I felt like I was learning it for the first time. 

" We tell them this is the name of the game: look smart, don't risk making mistakes."

Praising for effort ( using proper stance in baseball, completing a homework assignment ) instead of the result ( winning the game, acing the homework) has been shown to be most effective in bolstering kids. Encouragement around effort allows parents to praise children without sending them into a state of worry about how a challenge might change perception of them.  If my parents praise me for trying then no matter the outcome, I am winning by giving my best effort.

"Emphasizing effort gives a child a variable that they can control." 

One of the hardest parts about reading parenting books is seeing yourself in the mistakes and feeling like it is too late! I appreciated also how the authors gave a lot of grace to parents in each chapter. Many parents, myself included, reflexively praise our kids for their victories, and redirecting that can be difficult especially when we are around other parents.

2. Later school times, particularly for older kids makes a huge impact 

I live near a high school and was surprised to find that students are arriving each day around 9am. That was not at all my high school experience, but after finishing this chapter I'm glad to know our district is following the research-based guidance. Not only did later start times prove to be safer by preventing car accidents, likely caused by sleepiness, but students' test scores were wildly different as well. SAT scores in particular were boosted by staggering amounts due to the change. 

" In the year preceding the time change, math/ verbal SAT scores for the top 10% of Edina's 1,600 students averaged 683/605. A year later, the top 10% averaged 739/761."

3. Bias preparation is helpful to a point

 "Harris - Britt warns that frequent predictions of future discrimination become as destructive as experiences of actual discrimination."

There was a lot of discussion in the book about ways to help your child understand racism and how to best discuss it with them. But I was interested to hear that even those carefully curated messages can backfire as well. In fact, receiving too many lessons in preparation for bias made students significantly less likely to connect their successes to effort and much more likely to blame their failures on their teachers - whom they saw as biased against them. It seems like such a difficult balance and I left the chapter still wondering how much is too much?


4. How we go about teaching kids to lie seems only to make them more skillful liars

The entire chapter on kids and lying was fascinating. Not only are parents worse than chance, like flipping a coin, at knowing whether their own kids are lying. 

 "increasing the threat of punishment for lying only makes children hyperaware of the potential personal cost"

This message distracts children from learning a far more important lesson - how lies impact others. Offering immunity also did not show in studies to reduce lying. The old trick of, just tell me the truth I won't be mad trick - yeah it doesn't work. Instead immunity coupled with a clear route back to good standing is the best option for parents. Most importantly show you children the worth of honesty and also give credit to the confusing messages we send as parents. Frequently, we give preference to lying and it is actually seen as polite, such as with a white lie. Our children become accustomed to hearing us lie to make things "easier", and it is a difficult nuance for children to understand.

5. It is incredibly difficult to predict who is gifted at the stage when giftedness is typically assessed.

 "if you picked 100 kindergarteners as the "gifted" i.e. the smartest, by 3rd grade only 27 of them would still deserve that categorization." 

This is such an interesting aspect of education that absolutely rings true to my experiences. I did not qualify for gifted services until seventh grade, and while I might have made the cut in kindergarten I certainly wouldn't have later in school. The book discusses how comprehension of educational topics comes in spurts, the same child could be behind and then a few years later quite a bit ahead. One thing "NurtureShock" didn't address is what happened to those kids? Why would a kid be doing so exceedingly well in kindergarten and then be below average by 3rd grade and what can be done to prevent that?

6. Sibling relationship research is complicated and fascinating and

7. Children's out of family friendships predict success inside family relationships

"Young children may fail to develop prosocial relationships with their siblings if nobody teaches them how."

Sibling relationships may seem like such an obvious, effortless instant built-in friendship, but anyone with siblings knows this is not the case. We as parents spend a lot of time on analyzing the psychology of the strife between siblings. Why are they having tension? Is it competition for parental time, toys ( hint it's the toys frequently according to research), etc. Scientists have found though that even in homes where everything is as equal as possible, the sibling relationship is likely to not form if no one facilitates it. "Nurtureshock" discussed several studies where skill building around sibling relationships - how to play with your siblings, why to include them, and different ways to play, was found to be essential to forming a bond.

After finishing this chapter I now try to take a more active role in checking into how my kids are playing together. They have a five-year spread, and so sometimes playing together can be tough, but clearly integral to their long-term relationship.

6. Deception and Resistance 

Deception and resistance to parental authority actually peak at 14. These qualities are stronger at 11 years old rather than the usually depicted rebellious 18 year old. We have this idea of the rebellious high school student, but I think this age difference is really important information to know as a parent. We already learned earlier in the book that parents are poor judges of being able to tell when their child is lying to them. Being able to anticipate this early resistance and know its peak reminds parents to be cautious but also that grace is needed as this resistance is developmentally normal.

7. Gratitude journals didn't do the trick 

In previous research, gratitude journals had been found to be effective for adults in increasing their overall happiness. I was surprised to learn that those journals did not work well at all for children. While there was not a conclusive way to increase gratitude for children, I did enjoy learning about just how wide the emotional spectrum of children is and that those children with the kindest traits could also at times be the most cruel. It is a good reminder as a parent that black and white thinking about a child's "goodness" is fundamentally wrong and unfair.

8. Children are not small adults 

Reading through the experimental discussed in "Nurtureshock" it was interesting to see what failed as much as what worked. Time and time again the researchers would initially make an assumption based on what works for adults, such as with gratitude - only to have that completely upended. The same was found for encouragement, which for adults when focused on results is not as directly discouraging. 

10. Responding quickly to babble can improve early speech in mere minutes 

Like any good nonfiction book, I left with lots of questions when I was done reading. One of the last chapters of "NurtureShock" covers how psychologists have worked to determine how best to generate language skills in babies and toddlers. But as someone with an 8-year-old, I would love to learn more about how those skills continue to develop with age and how best that is learned by older kids as well! Fingers crossed a sequel is released with more information about the middle years.

Have you read "NurtureShock" by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman? What did you learn from reading book? If you haven't read it, leave a comment letting me know your favorite parenting book! I would love to add it to my TBR. Thanks for reading, readers!


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