Monday, August 16, 2010

Nurtureshock: new thinking about children

by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman

This is absolutely not a parenting book. There's plenty in it to interest parents (and a big notes and references section to point the way to more details), but it's probably more interesting for someone not in the midst of raising a child. I say this because the book is a whirlwind tour of the most intriguing tidbits culled from recent scholarship on child development and psychology. Although thoroughly researched, it's quite superficial and kind of sensationalistic, so it might make parents freak out and feel overwhelmed.

Which is ironic, since the authors opine in the introduction that news media tend to present current research and discoveries as infotainment and fail to provide sufficient context or follow up. They also make a big deal about the false assumptions and misleading instincts we adults have about child psychology and neurological development and learning, etc. Seeing through or beyond those prejudices was the key to most of the "new thinking" presented in the book, they say. Because they're presenting so many stunning insights so rapidly and shallowly, it would be all to easy to forget their caveats and leap to unfounded conclusions, turning these seemingly counter-intuitive ideas into the new false assumptions. It's not a huge criticism, in the end, because I found the book enjoyable, interesting and easy to read. Ultimately, I think, it's down to the fact that the book is more a collection of articles (they're magazine writers by trade), and in any case written for an educated but not necessarily statistically savvy or scientifically inclined audience.

Anyway, a few morsels to whet your appetite: praise can backfire, lying is a sign of intelligence (kids) and respect (teens), educational television programs can teach more bad lessons than good, and kids who seem "gifted" at 3 are quite likely to be ordinary five years later.

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