Nurture Shock

Nurture Shock, by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, is this summer’s required reading for the faculty and staff at my school – with a twist: our headmaster hopes that the parents of our students will read the book as well, setting the stage for a year-long conversation about the book’s major premise, which is that everything we think we know about the outcomes of our child rearing practices is wrong.

{Last summer’s reading was Howard Gardner’s Five Minds for the Future, and while I am just as much a fan of Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences theory as the next person, Five Minds was dense, dry reading. I read all but the last chapter, which is probably more than what 95% of the staff read. Nurture Shock is immensely more readable but undeniably more controversial. Let the games begin!}

Nurture Shock is structured much like Freakanomics and Blink; based on solid, groundbreaking research, each chapter stands alone yet supports the authors’ overall message that when it comes to raising kids, we’re doing it wrong.

{Can you believe there’s not a single video clip of the scene in Mr. Mom from whence the catchphrase “You’re doing it wrong” came! It’s the carpool scene – Jack (Michael Keaton’s character)  is going through the carpool line the wrong way, and his son keeps saying “Dad, you’re doing it wrong!” and Jack keeps brushing him off, and when he finally gets to the pick-up spot, Annette (the teacher? another mom? can’t remember) peers into the car and says, “Jack, you’re doing it wrong.”}

Bronson and Merryman (he the father of two, she the director of a small tutoring program for inner-city children in Los Angeles), were researching the science of motivation in grown-ups when they began to wonder about children and how they developed their self-confidence. They unearthed layers of research and made a startling discovery: we think we’re elevating children’s self-confidence when we praise them for being smart and good at something. In fact, the opposite is true – we undermine their self-confidence and foster a situation in which children who are told they are smart are afraid to tackle hard tasks because they don’t want to fail or to seem less intelligent. Expending effort on a task is a sign (in the child’s mind) of weakness: if I were really smart, I could do this, so I guess I’m not as smart as everyone says I am.

This research led to an article entitled “The Inverse Power of Praise”, published in New York Magazine in February of 2007 which  is now, in expanded form, the first chapter in the book. Starting tomorrow, I will post a reflection about one chapter from the book everyday for the next two weeks. I’ll get to kill two birds with one stone: complete a summer bucket list item (and my summer homework!) and have a ready-made topic for my blog each day. How easy is that?

Now, if I can just get my hands on a DVD of Mr. Mom for a little summertime task-diversion…!

Read more of my posts in this series:

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

9 thoughts on “Nurture Shock

  1. That is definitely on my reading list also – just the premise alone gives me pause and I’ve been attempting to see if I can do the methodology with the kids. Tough tough tough…
    Our book club book for June BTW (because you are a big fan) is the Living Oprah book – add that one too 🙂

  2. Well, if tomorrow’s post is any indication of my propensity for long-windedness on this topic, you may not have to actually read the book!

    I’m not sure I know about the Living Oprah book – what is it?

  3. I thought the book was great, although as you know I’m an Alfie Cohn fan so that stuff on ineffective praise was not new.

    Though R also has a book that mentions a recent study that says that small rewards DO work in terms of motivation, which contradicts the Alfie Cohn “intrinsic motivation” stuff. I’ve had to back off on some of his approach with C, who is pretty intrinsically motivated but one of her love languages (to mix parenting books) is receiving gifts and objects–so receiving something small actually does work with her.

    There’s also a chapter in Nurture Shock about how white parents need to talk about race and actually acknowledge that other people are other races, rather than not talking about it at all. The color-blind thing that most liberal parents do does NOT work. That’s made a big impression on me.

    Parenting with Love and Logic is still my current favorite parenting book. M is so funny about it though, the other day she said, “I’m tired of you saying that my behavior is draining the energy out of you!” LOL

  4. You just mentioned every one of my favorite parenting/teaching books except How to Make Children Mind without Losing Yours, which is my all-time fav!

    I think the main point I got from the first chapter in Nurture Shock is that we are doing all of these parenting/teaching things on “instincts” gleaned from loads of books, magazines, media reports, websites, etc. – and how much of that is based on “real” science?

    I love Alfie, too, and the research Bronson and Merryman cite totally supports what he says about empty praise and rewards. I also think that responding to each child is so important – if one of C’s love languages is receiving gifts, then small tokens of appreciation/rewards is one of the ways to motivate her. M’s love language might be quality time or words of affirmation, J’s might be something different. It takes a lot as a parent or a teacher to respond to each child differently based on what that child needs, especially if it appears to other children that it’s “not fair.”

    I can definitely see the difference between the children in my class who are encouraged to try, work hard, take risks, and make mistakes, and the children who are told all the time how wonderful, special, and smart they are. I have a couple of examples that I can’t put out there in blogland, but would be happy to share privately sometime!

  5. Oh, I also see this book stimulating some really interesting conversations at my school next year. I wonder how my parent/teacher conferences and report card narratives will change based on what I learn from the book.

  6. The Living Oprah book is where one woman took her advice from the mag literally for a year and followed it to see what happened. I have a few weeks to read it but am reading the last Stieg Larsson book – the Girl who kicked the Hornet’s Nest instead. Not that I won’t read it – but I’ve been waiting for the trilogy to end and by golly, I’m getting in there!
    That’s my current escape since… well my job is the same, my family is the same and well, we’re not going anywhere particularly exciting anytime soon. Not that we wouldn’t welcome a visitor or two! Oh yes, forgot to mention, we will be in Texas – Houston etc – in late September for my aunt and uncle’s 50th wedding anniversary – pause for effect here. Yup – 5-0. So maybe you can see all the Flynnskis then!

  7. Kind of like that guy who lived the Bible for a year, huh? 😉

    Anyway, I will look forward to seeing the fam in September. I would love to visit sunny CA, but it doesn’t look like that will happen any time soon. 50 years is a long time to be married to someone, don’t you think?

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