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The Nature of ‘NurtureShock’

Parenthood without pop psychology

May. 10, 2010
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The aptly titled book NurtureShock is a riveting look into the mysterious minds of children and the teachings of myth-guided parents.

Po Bronson, best-selling author and proud parent of two, and who co-wrote NurtureShock with Ashley Merryman, challenges the wisdom that proper parental instincts magically appear for first-time parents. “Really, the actual instinct—the biological drive that kicks in—is the fierce impulse to nurture and protect one’s child. Expecting parents can rely on this impulse kicking in—but as for how best to nurture, they have to figure it out,” Bronson says in the introduction of the book.

Many parents will undoubtedly roll their eyes when hearing NurtureShock described as “a book that reveals, in spite of good intentions, that the parenting skills being practiced on children may be counter-acting the very morals and lessons they’re trying to instill.”

Yet another book telling them how they got it wrong?

However, instead of pointing fingers, this book paints a vivid picture of what it is parents and caregivers may not see in their children’s behavior as a result of myths passed down from previous generations and outdated scientific studies.

“Over the last 10 years, a new branch of psychology has emerged. Rather than studying clinical patients with pathologies, these scientists have applied their skills to studying healthy, happy people who thrive, in order to discern what were the habits, values, and neuroscience of those with greater well-being,” Bronson says.

The truth is, instead of employing scientifically based psychological findings, many books simply regurgitate the opinions of pop-culture trends.

Bronson notes that despite the negative image of teens, for example—based on a study conducted in the mid-1970s done exclusively on troubled teens—there are more teens today than ever before that volunteer, are politically active and applying to college. “Pop psychology, fueled by the new explosion of self-help publishing, continued to pump out the message that the teen years are a period of storm and stress,” Bronson says, “and certainly, for many, they are… But for the next two decades, the social scientists kept churning out data that showed traumatic adolescence was the exception, not the norm.”

NurtureShock covers an assortment of timely and valuable topics that plague the minds of parents and affect the lives of children: the problem with praising your children too much; the cost of less sleep: IQ points, emotional well-being, ADHD and obesity; the reasons kids lie; race and skin color—children recognize the difference whether parents address it or not; IQ tests: art vs. science; why siblings really fight; teen rebellion—their need for respect and their constructive arguments with parents; the tools for self-control; playing well with others; and why some children begin to talk sooner than others.

This book serves as a navigational guide, taking you on archaeological digs into the minds of children and unearthing studies so fascinating it makes you wonder if the book is one big trick question, an elaborate display of reverse psychology.

Although there are a number of facts and studies to juggle for each chapter, the book is an easy and intriguing read. The authors’ writing style is sophisticated yet playful, at some points carrying the reader through the book as though by storytelling, with an upbeat, transparent and humble approach to understanding the new findings on child psychology.


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