Book Review: Nurture Shock

Nurtureshock: new thinking about children by P...

Nurtureshock: new thinking about children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman (Photo credit: irkstyle)

Book reviews are a new feature on this blog.  These will be books related to health, wellness, and time management for busy women.  I don’t organize my reading based on bestseller lists, so I’m a little late to the party for some of these.  The first book in this series is Nurture Shock, by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, published in 2009.

Nurture Shock is a scholarly treatment of studies on child-rearing.  It covers areas as diverse as sleep, racism, IQ testing, driver’s ed, and lying.  Each subject is explored by review of the science, personal interviews with the scientists, and direct observation of their methods.  The authors state in their introduction, “The central premise of this book is that many of modern society’s strategies for nurturing children are in fact backfiring–because key twists in the science have been overlooked.”

I was fascinated by the chapter on sleep, called “The Lost Hour”.  Bronson and Merryman discuss how kids are sleeping one full hour less per night than  in the past century.  While this may not seem to be much, two large and well-done Minnesota studies showed that starting school one hour later in the morning led to an average increase of 200 points in the SAT scores of the brightest kids, and that 15 minutes of extra sleep at night translated to a full grade point increase.

Another chapter, “Can Self Control Be Taught?” discusses a revolutionary program for kindergarten called Tools of the Mind, which incorporates free play to not only teach patience and self control to the youngest students, but also help them to become invested in their lessons by playing a role in cooperation with other children.  The example given was playing firehouse, where each child would have to decide what role they would play (firefighter, 911 operator, family being rescued, neighbor spotting the fire, etc) and then write out how they plan to play the role.  This led to writing, planning, persistence in adhering to the plan, cooperating with others, waiting their turn, and resulted in kids who learned much faster while having more fun.

In “The Search for Intelligent Life in Kindergarten” the authors make the case that IQ testing at the preschool/kindergarten level is so inexact as to be completely worthless.  Speed of development is actually not a good predictor of future IQ or academic performance.  IQ is still malleable at this age, and not only will some children be placed in gifted programs where they will later struggle, but many child who would do well in these programs will be missed.  The authors suggest that IQ testing should not be done until the 3rd grade, when the course work changes from memorization to comprehension, and when the results are far more predictable.

I have one criticism of this book.  The authors state in the introduction, “once we parsed through the science and reviewed the evidence, the new thinking about children felt self-evident and logical, even obvious.  It did not feel like we had to raise children ‘by the book.’  It felt entirely natural, a restoration of common sense.”  This statement whetted my appetite for a neat synthesis of all they had learned in writing this book.  After all, topics were presented in many areas covering children from a few months old to teenagers.  But the conclusion introduces more new information, rather than summarizing a complex body of science.  I would have liked a better summary of the common sense findings the authors found.  But except for that, Nurture Shock is a fascinating book about our kids, and how they can turn out fine in spite of our good intentions as parents.

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About womanmdsguide

My name is Dr. Kristen Cain and I'm an infertility doctor with a passion for women's wellness and having the time to live life to its fullest. I write about women's health issues and time management secrets for young professional women because a good life means having the health and time to enjoy it!
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