Nuture Shock for Parents
American culture — especially American middle class white culture — is neurotic about parenting. From the idea of permissive parenting that Doctor Spock supposably espoused to the use of Baby Einstein to increase language — because a 1997 study suggested that language development was aided by the sheer number of words a child heard. The funny thing about both these ideas is that neither one is true. Dr Spock said “I’ve always advised parents to give their children firm, clear leadership”. Later studies (as Nurture Shock shows) showed that direct interaction with a child — not the number of words heard — helped language development. But even the revelation that scientific studies show children do not recognise recorded speech as words will not affect the sale of Baby Einstein products. (For its part Disney, the makers of Baby Einstein, has distanced itself from any claims that its products provide an educational benefit.) Myths about parenting continue to live and get spread through parenting culture. Which is why every parent should read Nurture Shock. Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman take on a number of subjects that many parents think are settled issues — spanking, for instance — and show how empirical studies have flipped conventional wisdom on its head. I think, though, that much of this book is aimed at relatively affluent, white, middle class parents. When I shared some of the bits about race or sibling rivalry with my wife, who was born in Vietnam, she laughed at the “crazy Americans”. Vietnamese culture does not share some of the foibles the book addresses. But there is a lot that any parent, regardless of cultural background or parenting style, will appreciate. In a chapter titled “Can Self Control be Taught?”, for example, the authors reveal how a new program, Tools of The Mind, is enabling pre-schoolers to develop intrinsic motivation and self-regulation far sooner and far more predictably than previously thought possible. Even better, the chapter titled “Why Hannah Talks and Alyssa Doesn’t” shows a nine-month-olds vocal skills and, later, vocabulary, can be improved just by providing an immediate response (like a touch) when they burble something. For those who want to go further, the book provides 80 pages of end notes and references. But, since they avoided marking up the text with footnotes or super-scripts, it doesn’t affect the readability of the book at all. If you’ve got a child living at home — or if you’re just interested in child development — you should read this book.