Book Review: Nurtureshock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman

I’ll freely admit that Michelle was much better at the “studying” portion of pre-parenthood than I was when we found out she was pregnant last summer. She read parenting blogs, searched Amazon, and did research on the research to try to separate the good books from the veritable ocean of pop-psi crap that’s out there.

Me? I let her read the books and, if she found them worth it, I’d read them too. Some of the books she passed my way were interesting, one was so granola that you could almost smell the roasted oats when you picked it up, but all of them offered at least a small bit of knowledge that I hadn’t ever considered about parenthood before.

But there was one book that had Michelle very, very interested, Nurtureshock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, which she then asked me to read after she was done with it so we could discuss it.

Nurtureshock takes a look at many of the ideas around children, childhood, and child-rearing and examines the research around these ideas. They cover such things as lying, teaching children about race, discipline, praise, sleep, intelligence tests, and conflict; they then examine the common conceptions about these things and what the research says about them. For instance, many people feel that arguing between a parent and child is a bad thing, a sign of rebellion and disrespect, when research shows that it is actually a sign of respect, that children and parents who do argue and resolve the argument together have healthier releationships and children who do stand up for themselves in that fashion can more out-going and vocal individuals.

Some of what was discussed in the book I already knew about, such as the first section about the “inverse power of praise” (where kids who are praised more often do worse), but there were several things in this book that I hadn’t considered. Teaching my son about race for instance. I can’t remember a time when race ever came up as the topic of conversation with my parents, there was no race “talk” as far as I know; my understanding about the differences between me and people of other races and ethnicities was simply picked up along the way. Nurtureshock laid out a pretty convincing argument about how not talking about race can have some pretty negative side-effects and made me consider how I was going to address it with my son.

The thing I liked most about this book, after the psychology aspects of it (my degree is in psychology and it was nice to read a good book in that subject matter again), was that it was written in a conversational tone, as if the author were simply having a normal conversation with you. There are no heavy terms, no lengthy explanations of the math behind the findings; the information is presented in such a way that a person without a psych background would have no problem understanding the studies, their results, or the author’s interpretations of those results

One of my deepest desires in my job as a parent is to help give Connor the tools to make good decisions and to be a good person. Nurtureshock did a few things in offering some suggestions, based on scientific research, on how to possibly do it. It also described some stuff, like how easy it is to screw up when teaching kids lessons in an effort to help them, that fills me with fear.

If you’re a parent or a psychology geek, I recommend Nurtureshock.

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