Not Shocked: Research Parents Can Learn From

By Christine Carter | January 13, 2010 | 3 comments

A review of NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children, by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman

Did you know that nearly all children lie—six year olds at a rate of about once an hour? That's not the only bad news Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman give us in NurtureShock. It also turns out that most kids are probably not getting enough sleep, and this sleep deprivation hinders their learning and brain development permanently. Oh, and the way we praise our kids is likely making them insecure and unmotivated.

Did I just make you want to buy this book? Bronson and Merryman have cleverly (some might say cynically) framed their book to speak to parents' worse fears. But even though NurtureShock's not-so-feel-good framing runs counter to my propensity to see the glass Half Full, it does offer a fascinating tour through some recent and provocative research on children.

Although the authors can make parents' instincts about children seem incredibly off the mark, NurtureShock readers might want to keep in mind that there is just as much research out there—or more—that can be deemed the science of the blazingly obvious. Contrary to the book's premise, research is finally vetting many of those parenting practices that have been preached for centuries by grandmothers and philosophers alike—like the fact that family dinners, time spent in meditative reflection, and old-fashioned unstructured playtime are all good for kids.

The real contribution of NurtureShock is not that it reveals how incredibly little we parents know, but that it shows how our materialistic, achievement-oriented culture can mislead us about how best to provide for our children's health and happiness. We buy into the importance of having our children labeled "gifted" early in life; we get carried away trying to pack too many activities into our kids' lives, when what they really need is more sleep and free play; we spend billions of dollars on gimmicky videos hoping to give our kids an academic edge.

My recommendation is that we read NurtureShock and not feel anxious that we are doing everything wrong, but rather simply appreciate the main service it provides: distilling scores of academic studies through engaging storytelling, saving us from having to wade through barely readable academic journals.

What could make the book even more helpful would be recommendations for actions parents can take based on the research Bronson and Merryman uncover. It's one thing to know that our children are liars, for example; it's another to understand what we should do with that knowledge.

For example, children lie mostly because they are trying to keep us happy (and to avoid being punished). So we need to make sure they understand clearly that we are happiest with them when they tell the truth. Researchers reduced lying in Canadian boys by 75 percent and girls by 50 percent by reading them a book (no longer in print, I checked) in which George Washington's father declares that he is glad his son cut down the cherry tree—because hearing young George tell the truth is better than "having a thousand cherry trees." There's nothing that complicated or counter-intuitive about that lesson for parents.

This business of raising children can, of course, be incredibly difficult. But, once you get past its alarmist framing, NurtureShock shows us that simple shifts in our understanding can make us significantly better parents.

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About The Author

Christine Carter, Ph.D. is a Senior Fellow at the Greater Good Science Center. She is the author of The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work (Ballantine Books, 2015) and Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents (Random House, 2010). A former director of the GGSC, she served for many years as author of its parenting blog, Raising Happiness.


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My observation are limited only what I experienced in India. Most parent imposed their unconscious ambition on their children.Force them do that donot do that.Not giving freedom to choose their carrier.Keep in under strict control, that is really harmful.This unconscious tendency force parent behave that way.It is very difficult to break down this habit which inherited in their psyche deeply

Ramesh Raghuvanshi | 9:53 am, January 14, 2010 | Link


I don’t see why you suggest people “not feel anxious” about how they are doing things in a suboptimal way.  That sounds to me like exactly what the authors are telling us.
Stop making everything seem okay, because it isn’t.  A modicum of anxiety is appropriate under the circumstances.  Or, at least, a modicum of open mindedness.  I can’t fathom an entire population of parents that is so fragile it can’t bear the news that they might be doing things in a way that isn’t so great for their kids.
Were you raised that way?  Was everybody who reads this review?  Buck up!  Read it and learn.
And about lying — that is a perfect example of the double standard we have for kids.  Do you know any adult that doesn’t lie?  Ridiculous.

Betsy | 9:33 pm, January 15, 2010 | Link


Oh, I am so glad to hear about 6 yo’s lying because when I was in kindergarten, I told a lie and my mom went to the teacher and I got in so much trouble!!!  And then, one night at a party when we kids were supposed to be asleep, I heard my mom telling the story of my lie and its complications as a PARTY STORY and everybody LAUGHED and I felt so ashamed!!!  And confused, because here I thought I had committed a federal offense and the grownups were laughing.  Since then I have tried agonizingly hard to be truthful, to the point that people won’t even tell me things because I “can’t keep a secret” or “she’s so MORAL she’ll ruin everything!”  It has been very hard in my line of work trying to deal with the low-level dishonesty I see around me, to the point I have stress-related health issues.  I’m not blaming all of this on my mom, but parents, THINK before you over-react!!!

Elke | 11:09 am, January 23, 2010 | Link

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