Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What's a Parent to Do?

Or a grandparent or a teacher or anyone having contact with children? Nurtureshock by Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman is a fascinating book which raises as many questions as it may seem to answer. The subtitle of the book is New Thinking about Children. It is a collection of 10 chapters that can generally stand alone but which taken together turn the world of child development upside down - depending of course on your vantage point. (Example: Is emotional intelligence really such a good thing if imprisoned felons have higher emotional intelligence that the population as a whole?) And though most of the chapters deal with very young children, a couple of the chapters do concern teenagers (their sleep requirement, driver's ed, rebellion).

It is hard to escape the attention of late that the media have given to the advances in neuroscience but, with deference probably to the large number of baby boomers, the emphasis has been on the developments affecting life's later years. It turns out as you will learn from this book that there have also been astounding discoveries by neuroscientists with respect to the very young. And the designs of the experiments with the very young are ingenious!

When my children were younger the popular parenting approach was STEP (Systematic Training for Effecting Parenting) with its emphasis on "I" messages and logical consequences. More recently the approach seems to have been "All praise all the time" and helicopter parenting. No doubt this book will not be the last word on children and their development. Children's lying, sibling fighting, racial tolerance, language development are complicated and important issues for which there is no one magic formula. But understanding the principles set out in this book is important. It is also a call to action - to change the way we test for gifted children, to talk to children explicitly about race, to re-think the benefits of Sesame Street, ...

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