The media is in love again. Now that God is firmly perched in the White
House, they can turn their attention elsewhere. And they have: on the
new parenting book Nurtureshock, by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman.
Nurtureshock: New Thinking about Children is not a book about how to raise children; it’s about how not to.
It’s been hailed as “one of the most important books you’ll read this
year,” “fascinating,” “empowering,” and “soft-pedaled guidance for
parents.” This last description – “soft-pedaled guidance” – nails it.
The authors refrain from making personal judgments about modern
parenting (unless they’re including themselves in the admonishment) and
instead rely exclusively on scientific evidence. They are indeed soft
in their approach, as they explain to America -- how should I put it -- that parents today have no idea what they’re doing.
Bronson and Merryman are dead on in their analysis. They write,
“The central premise of this book is that many of modern society’s
strategies for nurturing children are backfiring. The resulting errant
assumptions about child development have distorted parenting habits,
school programs, and social policies.” According to the authors, the
reason modern parents have screwed up so bad (my phrase, not theirs) is
because “key twists in the science have been overlooked.”In other
words, parents stink at raising kids because they’ve been given really
And that’s where Nurtureshock comes in. The book is
chock full of impressive research that provides solid evidence for what
children need from adults. But this research is only impressive to
those who are surprised by the results. Traditional parents won’t be
the least bit affected by this book – save for the fact that it proves
they’re doing something right.
The media, on the other hand, have always prided themselves on being hip. Consequently, Katie Couric calls Nurtureshock
“eye-opening”; Matt Lauer calls it “a whole other school of thought”;
and Kelly Ripa concedes she’s “broken every rule in the book.” This
isn’t surprising. Anyone who’s not present in their children’s lives on
a daily basis to see exactly what it is children need are inevitably at
a loss as to how to parent.
Which is not to say every parent at home is a natural. The authors
are correct that the “maternal instinct” is merely “the fierce impulse
to nurture and protect one’s child.” But “as for how best
to nurture, [parents] have to figure it out.” That’s why cultural
trends – like whether or not most parents stay home with their kids,
whether or not spanking or time-outs are the “in” thing – are so
important. Most people need to be validated for the work they do, and
they want to do things the way everyone else is doing it. So if
everyone is doing it wrong – which is precisely what the authors are
saying -- so will they.
Fortunately for modern parents, they finally have some great
advice. Bronson and Merryman have a video clip circulating on the web
that assures readers “the world of parenting is about to change.” Here
are some of the things they say:
“Having lopped on to some wrong ideas about childhood has led people to overlook some amazing science.”
each chapter of this book, we take on an idea that has become
conventional wisdom, something parents and society have invested in –
and we use the science to debunk that.”
went to the scholars who write the tests that are used for kindergarten
readiness. The tests used for kindergarten screenings were wrong 72% of
Unlike the authors, I’ve never been accused of being “soft,” so forgive
me if my words jump off the page with a little more bite. The fact is,
for decades now parents have been fed a load of crap about children.
Like the idea that children are delicate creatures incapable of
handling setbacks or the word No. Or the idea that
early preschool will make children smarter. Or the idea that children’s
needs are no different from adult needs – particularly with respect to
sleep, which is why children today are entirely sleep-deprived. Bronson
and Merryman take on these popular trends and “debunk” them one by one,
which has the folks in the media – who’ve been providing advice to
viewers from modern parenting “experts” -- completely flummoxed.
Fortunately, not everyone is confused. As Tricia Huff, a reader from Cincinnati, writes in an Amazon review:
children do not think like adults is hardly shocking news. Bronson and
Merryman's book is a readable recitation of several interesting studies
that contradict some of the child rearing advice the public have
received through popular media sources such as magazines and parenting
books. But many lay people interpreted the advice in such a manner that
they are already doing what the current studies now recommend. For
these readers the book is going to fall somewhat short of the
expectation implied in the title of turning our parenting ideas upside