Nurture Shock – Why Everything We Think about Raising our Children is Wrong (Part 1 of 2)

This is a book by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman first published in 2009.

Nurture Shock

This term simply means the state of panic that the new age parents have found themselves in. This new generation of parents have kept their instinctual knowledge and natural behaviours at bay. They are looking to tap into abode of knowledge that is prescribed in baby books and parenting manuals.

Nurture shock puts cold water on your face if you are one such parent. This book covers a wide range of topics from “brain fibre to moral fibre” and it is about children from toddlers to teenagers. There are specific chapters devoted to the importance of sleep, how praising is devastating, why children lie, the acquisition of language, learning self-control, aggression, gratitude and intelligence.

Why kids lie?

Dr. Victoria Talwar is one of the leading experts on children’s lying behaviour, has conducted various tests on children to understand their motivation to lie. She says that its the parents who corner them and give them no other option but to lie, they tended to test their honesty unnecessarily. She figured that talking more about lying and its ill effects is actually not helping in the outcome. 96% to 98% kids admit that they is immoral but 96% of them admit to have lied to their parents. Lying has been the most talked about topic in school and on the sports ground. In one of her tests she asked 5 yr olds if they thought lies were wrong, of which 92% agreed. Upon asking why they thought it was bad they all said that lying gets you punishment.

So they associate the two together in a way and think that they need to mitigate the risk of being punished when they lie. It takes years for them to understand the repercussions of lying in a social relationship context. Researchers found that kids who are under constant threat of being punished don’t lie less, infact they become good liars at an earlier age.

Talwar goes on to explain that its not actually being truthful that is challenging. Infact to lie one has to understand the truth and cook up or creatively weave an alternate scenario that is not far from truth but is believable. This kind of skill is simply not required if you have to say the truth. So she calls this as a “developmental milestone”!

The inverse power of praise

It might seem counter intuitive but when you read the logic behind is unbeatable. Parents praise their kids habitually some praise at every chance they get. According to a survey conducted by Columbia University, 85% of Amercian parents think that its important to tell their kids that they are smart. These kids then are showered with compliments for almost every finger they move, ofcourse the right way. They are made to believe that they are innately great and they have it all. But a new study of the New York City public School system reveals a rather shocking reality. This study strongly suggests that by naming kids that they are smart you are actually not preventing them from underperforming but this might be actually causing it.

Dr. Carol Dweck is a faculty at Stanford University who is conducting a study on 400 fifth graders. Randomly the kids were divided into two groups. One group was praised for their intelligence and one group was praised for their efforts. The groups were given tests in two rounds. They were told their scores after the first round and one group was praised for their smartness, “Oh you are so smart!” the research assistants would tell them. The other group were also told their scores and appreciated like, “You must have really worked hard for this.” Then both the groups were given their 2nd rounds of tests. In this round they were given the choice for opting for a harder test than the previous one. Kids who were appreciated for the efforts that they have put 90% of them took the harder test. Majority of the kids who were praised for their smartness took the easy way out. Results of this test were even more amazing. The kids who were praised for their efforts did 30% percent better than their previous test and the ones who were praised for their smartness fell behind their performances by 20%.

Kids who are told that they are smart don’t know the reasons for their success, they just think that they have it in them and don’t put out the efforts. On the contrary if you praise their efforts they tend to think that the parameters of success is in their control. This effect of blinded praise effects every socioeconomic class and equally with boys and girls.

The common notion is that praising boosts the self esteem of children which is the key to successful performance. After reviewing some 200 studies from 1970 to 2000, Dr. Roy Baumeister from the Association for Psychological Science concluded that high self esteem didn’t improve grades, career advancement, any reduction in alcohol usage, and especially did not lower any violence.  Infact highly aggressive and violent people think very highly of themselves.

Dweck and her team says that to be effective, praise has to be specific and also sincere. Most common mistakes that parents make is that they praise only when they see things going their way. Children above the age of seven can scrutinize and figure out if the given praise is hollow or sincere.

The lost hour

Children globally in this age are getting one hour of sleep lesser than that they were getting about 30 years ago. 90% of American parents think their kids get enough sleep. Contradicting to 60% of kids in high school complain of extreme sleepiness in classrooms, where 25-33% of kids fall asleep during the class once in a week. Shockingly only 5% of high schoolers get on an average of 8 hrs of sleep. Majority of them get around 6.5 hrs of sleep.

Lack of adequate sleep impairs the child’s developing brain. The neurons lose their plasticity and become incapable of forming synaptic connections to encode a memory. These hindrances in the ability to learn during the day.

A study conducted showed that more than half of 100,000 car crashes that happen due to the driver falling asleep behind wheels are school children who rushed to schools by their alarm clocks. One such school in Minnesota, US delayed its school starting time by an hour and found startling results. Kids performed highly on their SAT scores and admitted to have better quality of life.

Rest of the review will be posted in part 2 of the blog tomorrow…

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