NurtureShock: how our actions shape children

A friend recently recommended the book "NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children" by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. I picked up a copy at our local independent bookstore and would like to share what I found interesting. The book presents the latest research on child development, education and parenting in 10 distinct chapters. I recommend reading it, as it contains pretty fascinating information. Here are three of my favorites:

The Lost Hour: Around the world, children get an hour less sleep than they did 30 years ago. The cost: IQ points, emotional well-being, ADHD and obesity.

In this chapter, the authors discuss the modern challenge of getting kids to bed at a decent hour. We all face this challenge. Most of us have to work long hours and when we get home and get the family gathered, we want to spend quality time together, which means bed time may get inconsistent and later.

What researchers have found is how critically important that lost time is. In young children, it impacts their ability to process all they have learned during the day and absorb it.

In teens, sleep deprivation may very well bring out what we consider to be normal teen characteristics: moodiness, depression and even binge eating. I found this statistic fascinating: "90 (percent) of American parents think their child is getting enough sleep... the kids themselves say otherwise: 60 (percent) of high schoolers report extreme daytime sleepiness. A quarter admit their grades have dropped because of it... 20 (percent) to 30 (percent) are falling asleep in class at least once a week." The beauty of the research presented in this chapter is that it is so hopeful; it is something parents can actually do something about. Go to bed!

Plays Well With Others: Why modern involved parenting has failed to produce a generation of angels.

Apparently, I am not the only one concerned about how the TV my son watches impacts his relationships with others. A research study was recently conducted where the assumption was that preschoolers who were watching violent shows (Power Rangers, etc.) would exhibit physically aggressive behavior and kids who watched educational shows (Clifford, Arthur) would be less aggressive and more prosocial (sharing, being helpful). What they found was unexpected. "The more educational media the children watched, the more relationally aggressive they were."

What is interesting about the educational shows is that they often spend most of the 20 minutes building the tension between characters, showing them behaving badly, in order to resolve the conflict at the end, showing ultimately how kids can get along. But, our preschoolers cannot link that resolution with all the bad behavior they see through most of the show. What they see and absorb is how to treat each other badly. Pretty interesting! Sit down and watch an educational show with your kid sometime, see what you think. For me, I am feeling slightly less bad about my son's love of Power Rangers. And swords. He really loves swords.

The Inverse Power of Praise: Sure, he's special. But new research suggests if you tell him that, you'll ruin him. It's a neurobiological fact.

Research is finding that all of the general praising that we have been handing out to our children over the years is actually not helping them. Kids absorb the idea that they are smart because adults have been telling them so. But what they need to hear is something along the lines of "you worked really hard." This helps them understand that effort is worthwhile and that they can improve their skills, whereas hearing "you are so smart" causes them to fear failure and avoid it at all cost, ultimately underperforming in order to protect their "smartness."

From my own experience, this is hard to hear. I love to tell my son how smart and wonderful he is because I really think those things. However, what he needs to hear is that he did that particular thing/activity well or that I am so proud of the way he asked politely for something or that he is smart because of the way he figured that puzzle out, even though it was hard. And, when I want to express my love for him, my amazement over him, because that is what is at the root of all of our praise, I need to just tell him I love him. Pretty straightforward, watch for what they do well and tell them they did it well. Acknowledge their hard work. And when you feel proud and gushy towards them, tell them you love them.

There is much, much more in this book that is fascinating about children and how we interact with them. Some of the other chapters cover sibling relationships, teen rebellion and self-control. Definitely a worthwhile read for anyone parenting today.

Good luck out there. Here's hoping you find a moment to read something interesting.even if it's technically your bedtime.

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