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NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children, Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman

2010/06/06

In the preface, the authors touch on the role of the media in disseminating scientific discoveries and breakthroughs, noting that “many scientific investigations can’t live up to the demands of media packaging… [in the science of child development] rather than new truths arriving on the wings of a single experiment, they have come at a crawl, over a decade, from various studies replicating and refining prior ones.” In this book, Bronson and Merryman examine several different areas of child development in which experiments and studies have been conducted, with some surprising results that counter society’s current lines of thought. These include gifted child tests, sleep requirements and results of sleep deprivation, the power of praise, racism, and the results of modern involved parenting.

For example, the authors examined the process whereby young children are tested and labeled “gifted.” The tests themselves have been proven in multiple studies to be “astonishingly ineffective predictors of a young child’s academic success.” Though the tests examine a child’s current performance and compare them to peers, they do not claim to predict future potential. In addition, once a child has been assessed and determined to be gifted, they are never retested; instead, they proceed through school with that label regardless of performance. When researchers examined the South Carolina gifted program, they found that only 12% of gifted children in third thru fifth grade had a basic ability level in math, while 30% were merely proficient. They suggested the creation of a “remedial-yet-gifted” program. Imagine that.

In another chapter, the authors visit a lab where researchers test parents, teachers, and police officers to see if they are able to tell when children are lying. The authors watch eight videos of children telling a story to see if they can determine whether the children are telling the truth or not. They both are wrong more than half of the time. The researchers reassure them that this is quite normal — that the adult indicators for lying are useless when evaluating children. Even when testing children and their parents, parents inevitably fail to correctly determine the truth. In fact, the way that they question their children encourages the telling of falsehoods.

This is a fascinating look at recent research on child development. Many of the findings, upon reflection, seem to be common sense, but are finally backed up with studies and research. There are plenty of additional resources and citations at the end of the book for those who wish to read further.

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