15 February 2011

Book 8 of 2011

This was my SSR book for the last few weeks, and I finished it just before the journalism class' story idea meeting.

NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children

8) NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman
There's a common cliche that has always bugged me about parenting books and the people who read them: the readers share their knowledge with parents who are in the thick of raising kids, and the former attempt to school the latter on what they're doing wrong. And while I was reading this book, I didn't want to be that guy, especially considering more of my friends that I talk to on a regular basis have kids now than don't. Thankfully, this doesn't quite count as a parenting book but more of a child psychology book. Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, NurtureShock's authors, take many of society's normal preconceived notions about children -- from infants to teenagers -- and debunk the thinking surrounding them.

As someone who wants to have kids, this was a fascinating look at what is a surprisingly burgeoning field of research. Many studies have focused on the problem children in society: those with ADHD, ESL students, kids with mental health concerns, and so on. It's only been in the last few years that researchers have turned their attention to the well-adjusted, non-problem kids to figure out their state of mind. Merryman and Bronson reveal that many of the assumptions made about said children are rooted more in wishful thinking but fall apart when scrutinized. At the same time, any research, when picked apart enough, fails to hold up to scrutiny, including that of the authors.

Additionally, the findings that Merryman and Bronson report make sense. So often people, be they parents, teachers, or researchers, assume that what applies to adults also applies to children, but those same people tend to forget that they are, in fact, dealing with children. While that appears to be common sense, until recently it was never explored through research. One aspect that makes researching the standard, reasonable child difficult is funding: several times throughout the book, Bronson and Merryman note that people had their research funding cut off because their subjects started to test too far into normal parameters. Ironic to be sure, but the researchers found it frustrating to have their progress cut short just as they were arriving to an interesting or groundbreaking area.

Since I'm a prospective parent and current teacher, I'm definitely more invested in the subject matter, and the authors present it by using anecdotes taken from the research. That being said, I can see where someone else might view the whole of the text as very dry. But, seriously, this stuff is fascinating for any would-be or current parent and revelatory in a few specialized areas of interacting with children. I read this for pleasure but did so with a highlighter in hand, and I annotated the hell out of this book. In fact, I did my best to write the overall conclusion from each of the chapters as I finished them. This may count as spoilers for anyone looking to read NurtureShock, but I wanted some way to keep track of the major ideas that I took away from the reading.
  • Praise effort instead of intelligence.
  • Kids get less sleep, and, as a result, they perform worse academically and get fatter.
  • Ignoring talking about race doesn't make kids colorblind, and can actually encourage them to segregate themselves socially.
  • Lying at an early age shows intelligence, but it's cognitively difficult for kids to understand the impact of their lie.
  • Testing kids at an early age makes "long-term structural decisions over kids' lives at a point when their brains haven't even begun the radical transformations that will determine their true intelligence" (113).
  • Siblings fight not for their parent's affections but because they know that their brothers and/or sisters will always be there. Friendship interactions speak more to how siblings will eventually interact.
  • Teen rebellion is not the norm: they view fighting with their parents as a productive way of articulating the arguments from both sides. It's parents who feel that arguing is destructive.
  • Self-discipline is even more important than intelligence or "smarts;" fortunately, the latter can be taught at a young age and is not something determined beforehand.
  • Educational television will help tone down physical aggressiveness but may make the the kid even more relationally aggressive. Also, it's important that children see their parents resolve their arguments.
  • Language acquisition is not innate and videos like Baby Einstein actually stifle a child's vocabulary. The best way to get kids talking earlier is to respond to the sounds they make as they make them. This was probably one of the more fascinating chapters so far.
Finally, nearly a third of the book is comprised of notes, acknowledgments and an index. Aesthetically, I found this frustrating because, and this is incredibly petty on my part, I felt like I was getting the shaft when it comes to the pages read. This is listed as a 336 page book but the actual text only takes up 238 pages. It just felt misleading, is all.

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