"Nurture shock" therapy
A best seller delves into the new science of parenting to reveal all the ways we go wrong.
By Carol Lloyd
Call me unbalanced, but parenting books exert a schizoid power over my brain. While my “eager-beaver, wanna be a better mommy” personality yearns to devour these ubiquitous how-to manuals, the other side of me — call her Ms. Easily Unimpressed — smells a rat and turns up her nose.
“You can’t fool me with your bogus generalizations about my children,” I silently critique the grinning author on the back flap. “You don’t even know them.”
Eventually, the curious, more gullible me wins out, and I crack open the cover only to come across the first patently inane assertion and drop the book mid-sentence, never to be picked up again.
Thus, like many parents I know, I’ve read parts of dozens of these tracts on raising happier, smarter, more responsible children, but finished precious few. It’s not that they are so inherently bad — it’s just that they all seem to have an ax to grind that says a heck of a lot more about the authors’ desire for a really cool ax (or their own professional biases) than the many nuances of real-life parenting. The psychologists prescribe innovative therapeutic solutions; the learning specialists recommend new-fangled mental calisthenics. Eventually, the authors let their bias show.
This is when a parent shrinks back and wonders: Why am I outsourcing my most important job to a paperback?
NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children, by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, offers a welcome respite from the unified field theory of parenthood. As journalists — he’s a writer/dad, she’s the director of a tutoring center for inner-city kids in Los Angeles — they both have a stake in discovering useful strategies for raising children and encouraging their learning. But since they aren’t experts in a single field, they can afford to focus on the most promising new ideas to emerge from recent studies.
The book is worth reading. (If that’s not glowing praise from an overemployed parent with young children, I don’t know what is.) But just in case you can’t get around to it this weekend, here are a few golden nuggets:
Call kids smart, and you damage them for life
Just kidding! But the research is clear: Labeling kids with even positive innate attributes can undermine their confidence in their own ability to tackle difficult problems. Stanford University’s Carol Dweck observed that children who were told they were intelligent shied away from greater challenges, while another group of kids who were praised for their stick-to-itiveness attempted to solve more-difficult problems and often succeeded. This, Dweck has theorized, exemplifies the difference between a “fixed mindset,” in which the mind is viewed as a receptacle of a certain amount of inborn talent and intelligence, and a “growth mindset,” in which the mind is regarded as a muscle that can become stronger with effort.