Nurtureshock: New Thinking about Children

By Po Bronson, Elizabeth Kanna, Robert T. Kiyosaki

25,695 ratings - 4.02* vote

In a world of modern, involved, caring parents, why are so many kids aggressive and cruel? Where is intelligence hidden in the brain, and why does that matter? Why do cross-racial friendships decrease in schools that are more integrated? If 98% of kids think lying is morally wrong, then why do 98% of kids lie? What's the single most important thing that helps infants learn In a world of modern, involved, caring parents, why are so many kids aggressive and cruel? Where is intelligence

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Book details

ebook, 0 pages
September 3rd 2009 by Twelve

(first published September 3rd 2008)

Original Title
NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children
7770679729 (ISBN13: 9780446504126)

Community Reviews

Christine Cavalier

NurtureShock: New Thinking about Children
Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman 2009

New York Magazine journalists Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman team up to add commentary and more information to their articles in this new book published by Twelve, a division of the Hachette Book Group.

The last page of the book has this blurb about Twelve:

“TWELVE was established in August 2005 with the objective of publishing no more than one book per month. We strive to publish the singular book, by authors who have a unique perspective and compelling authority.”

They lost me at “compelling authority.”

Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman are journalists, not scientists. This book isn’t a synthesis of research; it’s an opinion piece with a conservative bent (indeed, Ashley Merryman’s back-flap bio boasts that she “lives in Los Angeles, where she runs a church-based tutoring program for inner-city children.”)

I’m not advocating gatekeeping; there is definitely a place for independent research and grass-roots efforts. Child Psychology isn’t one of those places. NutureShock is just another parenting book in a long line of book written by reporters for profit. The authors have a reputation for reporting on overlooked studies with rare results, and they boast in their chapter notes that their New York Magazine articles were popular. Compiling and expounding on past work seems to be the best way to write a book these days; this doesn’t mean that the articles, as a book, make a cohesive or worthy statement.

Basically, I found the book to be the amateur, armchair science that is fun to read in small bites while on the train. Read it for entertainment purposes, but don’t implement the few approaches outlined at home; they aren’t tested enough, and the results have yet to be repeated to gain respect in academia.

The book does, unwittingly, bring up some good points about statistics, studies, and systemic judgments based on those studies. Statistics and study results are nothing to respect when presented alone. The best way to make decisions about anything is to weigh multiple instances of evidence, to never rely on one event. The authors do their best to rip up school district decisions on testing, anti-obesity and anti-bullying programs, by claiming these decisions were not based on scientific results but just made using traditional thought and instinct. While some programs in districts may be made more based on hope than science, the majority of IQ testing and other educational programs are based on years of study and a large meta-analysis of results of hundreds of studies. To suggest otherwise, as the authors do, is hasty, irresponsible, and insulting to educational scholars, teachers, and parents.

The authors proceed to cite a study here, a successful preschool program there, to illustrate their point that decisions about children should be based on evidence. I agree. But A LOT of evidence. Not an anecdotal story or two (which the authors provide), nor 1 or 2 labs that keep getting the same results for their handful of articles. The authors bemoan the lack of long-term studies in almost every chapter, yet fail to mention the very sophisticated and accurate methods of behavioral statistics answers this issue. They sing praises of a preschool program called Tools of the Mind, but conveniently forget to list the challenges associated with the program. This book is a thinly disguised attempt to steer the conversation toward a conservative agenda in education.

The writing is ok. Their lack of academic tone in parts is jarring. For example, on page 190, the authors use colloquial language where they shouldn’t have:
“… a separate word to distinguish the kind of popular teen who diminishes others –in Dutch, for instance, the idiomatic expression popie-jopie refers to teens who are bitchy, slutty, cocky, loud and arrogant.”

An academic article would have used words like “promiscuous,” “disagreeable,” and “condescending,” especially since the Dutch don’t use the English colloquial words that are listed. I also question the choice of listing the derogatory words for females first, or at all.

At times the authors conduct their own “studies,” but we should disregard these results. We have no idea what the sampling was, what the control group was given (if there even was a control group), or how the study was designed at all. Until their results can be repeated many times, then one-off studies should merely bring up ideas for further study.

The only good that comes out NutureShock is the reminder to hold studies, especially those recounted by non-scientist media, in suspicion. If you are planning to pick up this book, read it for entertainment purposes only. It may make you think a bit differently in some aspects of child-rearing, like how your teen may see arguing as the opposite of lying, or how we whites actively avoid talking about race. The authors should have stayed with reflecting trends in traditional parenting, and avoided passing themselves off as authorities.


Things I have changed about my parenting after reading this book:

I have my daughter "read" books back to me after I read them to her.

We make a plan for the day complete with drawings and handwriting practice.

I tell my kids that I can tell they worked really hard on something, instead of just telling them that they are great.

I try to respond more often when my 10 month-old son makes a voiced noise.

I have stopped letting my kids watch Arthur or Clifford.

I had a conversation with my 4-year old about how some people have black skin and some people have brown skin and that's OK.

And, the chapter about what teenaged kids do (and what they tell their parents they are doing) scared the crappity about of me. I DO NOT want my kids to grow up. Or, maybe is there a way to skip the teenaged years?


So far is one of my top 3 parenting books I've ever read. Scientifically backed studies on child development that go against everything you thought you knew was best, well not all of it was new -- but it was all still good.

FYI - this book was not written by child psychology experts, but by two journalists in the child psychology field whose "niche" is to report on studies that have gone unheeded.

There are ten chapters, each reading like its own essay:

1. The Inverse Power of Praise
2. The Lost Hour
3. Why White Parents Don't Talk About Race
4. Why Kids Lie
5. The Search for Intelligent Life in Kindergarten
6. The Sibling Effect
7. The Science of Teen Rebellion
8. Can Self-Control Be Taught
9. Plays Well with Others
10. Why Hannah Talks and Alyssa Doesn't

There was A LOT I loved about this book. One of my favorites was the chapter on race. Basically the conclusion is that while non-white parents talk about race in their homes most white parents don't. They (white parents) just assume if you don't say anything, that kids will know that everyone is created equal; in fact they aren't even pointing out we are different - so saying nothing is better than accentuating it. Right? The problem is if you don't help young kids (think 3-6) think through this they'll make their own conclusions about why people have different color skin, which could lead to some problems.

So after I read that chapter I sat down and decided to test it. I asked Ellie what color skin she has and what color other people have and why. She says, "There is white and brown and black. Other people have brown skin because they like it the most." So I asked her does that mean she likes white the most? "Yes."

Hmmm. Yikes. I guess it doesn't hurt to explain to little kids that some people are from different lands/countries where EVERYONE is that color. And in this country usually you have the color of skin of where your grandparents came from. It's like family.

I am planning on using this book for next time I host a bookclub.


Interesting book. There were a lot of interesting ideas, however, I feel more confused about children than I did before. I guess the point is to open your eyes. One theme throughout is that kids are different than adults and need to be understood differently. A few interesting points:

1. Praise specific achievements and praise effort
2. Regular lack of sleep is damaging to children's health
3. Naturally, we tend to racially segregated, so it's wise to take steps to help your kids learn not to be racially bias.
4. Lying needs to be addressed at an early age, rather than ignored
5. Toddler intelligence tests are very inaccurate
6. Kids better improve social skills with friends than siblings
7. Teens argue to strengthen relationships
8. Teens who have higher standards and basic rules get in a lot less trouble, and generally lie less
9. School programs don't work very well (D.A.R.E., Drivers Ed)
10. Kids shows (even educational ones, Arthur, etc.) teach kids to be "relationally aggressive"
11. Popular, more social kids tend to be more "relationally aggressive"
12. Baby videos don't help with language - better are one-on-one communication with parents - responding to babbling

All observations by the authors and researchers, not sure I agree with everything, but interesting nonetheless. I still think one of the best books is "Children The Challenge". Thanks for that, mom!

Paul Eckert

Since I'm now a parent, I've been looking for parenting books that would interest me, something that was more than repackaged conventional wisdom and phoned-in encouragement. I wanted something scientific, not the new pop-psychology of the week.

Nutureshock met my expectations with its science, but that's also where it seemed to lose itself. There are some interesting bits early on in the book regarding praising children (e.g. studies show that telling kids they are smart, as opposed to praising their effort, leads to kids not trying as hard) and the psychology of why children lie (and how parents react to lying), but most chapters afterward seemed to flounder in the details. For instance, one of the last chapters is about how kids learn to speak. Though it was interesting to find out why the Baby Einstein merchandise is ineffective and based on incorrect interpretations of research, the chapter then carries on about how babies learn to talk and ways that babies can learn to speak faster, and it spent a great deal of time on this subject whenever it presented no evidence that there was any great benefit to having a child learn language a few months sooner. At one point, it even says that the methods that best work for teaching babies to speak shouldn't be attempted consciously because it might be used incorrectly and actually hinder a child's language abilities. Which brings a parent back to doing what they would have done anyway...

The same thing happens in a chapter about a kindergarten program that works so well called "Tools". Instead of telling more about why the program works so well, the reader is barraged with regurgitated statistics on how much better the "Tools" program is than regular curriculum, and at the end left me rewinding to figure out what was so great about the program anyway.

In one instance, the authors spend a whole chapter championing the virtues of kids getting more sleep (duh?). But their answer to the problem is making schools start later. They pose one line of opposition, the fact that, despite the positive statistics from other school districts that started their schools one hour earlier, many school districts are hesitant to implement the policy because the district would have to buy more buses since junior high and high school would start so close together. But then they never pose an answer to this opposition, which is a damn good reason not to implement this "one hour earlier" policy. It's not cheap to have to order a whole fleet of new buses, not to mention a whole fleet of new bus drivers as well, and the stress on parents to try to schedule kids that are different ages and whose schools start at different times. Why don't the kids just go to bed an hour earlier?

The chapter on teen rebellion was fairly interesting, but also seemed to confirm some conventional beliefs. The most interesting thing was that while the majority of adults felt that arguing with their teenager was detrimental to their relationship, the kids actually felt it strengthened their relationship because they felt they were being listened to. The kids who had constructive arguments with their parents, and even were conceded to time and time again, were also the kids that were more truthful, honest, and respectful of their parents.

There was one line in this book that really pissed me off, and I don't mind ranting about it. It was in the chapter about race relations. The authors talk about how minorities are often taught to embrace and celebrate their heritage and ethnicity to cultivate pride. But then the author says that white children are not taught so because it "would be abhorrent" (author's words) since white people hold the majority of the power in the world. First of all, that is some serious PC hyperbole. Power is relative. No one has any inherent "power" over anyone because of their race. Second, what is the alternative? Should white kids be ashamed because they're white? And what if the tables were turned, if what we consider minority race suddenly had 'a majority of power'? Should we then teach 'white' kids to be proud of their heritage and 'minorities' to be ashamed? To be sure, this was just one line in the book, but it was a little upsetting.

I think the disappointing thing about books like this is that you expect to learn really exciting new things, and by the end you only remember a few good points.

Kind of interesting if you have kids, but there's not a whole lot in this book that one can apply to one's parenting. The conclusions reached are often weak and seem to result from bombarding the reader with dubious statistics like "students' happiness increased 25% after the initial study..." Some things I believe you can objectively test, but measuring happiness in percentages seems a bit ludicrous.


Fantastic at times and awful the rest of the time. Bronson and Merryman do a great job getting back to the "basics" in many areas. Noticing the inverse power of praise, the need to discuss race and the idea that self-control can be taught can't be mentioned enough in our culture. Yet, the authors completely avoid the heart of the matter. Child rearing, in their view, can be perfected if we are willing to do enough scientific studies and research to determine what is most effective. The studies included in the book are fascinating but the conclusions are very questionable. The aggression studies related to TV watching come to mind. I believe the heart of the issue is the matter of the heart. If parents, themselves, are being humble, working hard, living disciplined lives, loving their neighbors, and so on, our children will develop well beyond the child enrolled in the various 10 point developmental programs (Tools of the Mind, etc.). The back cover states that the book "gets to the core of how we grow, learn, and live." I would argue the book lightly touches the surface of how we grow, learn, and live. The core of child rearing is in parents developing the character they would like their children to develop and not simply discovering innovative techniques and programs to manufacture children of virtue.

reading is my hustle

Originally a magazine article focusing on the science of parenting, this engaging (and highly readable) book looks at parenting from the realm of science.

Most important research findings:
Things do not work the same for children as they do in adults (and) positive traits do not ward off negative behavior in kids (a good kid still can be dishonest or engage in relational aggression).

In short:
A child who is dishonest is (also) showing signs of intelligence and social savvy. And, while praise works wonders for adults, it can undermine a child's intrinsic motivation. In other words, it is because adults like praise so much that they have lavished it on their kids (intuiting it would be beneficial).

Yes, you just read the above correctly.

Research also informs us:
Why kids lie, that praise is not the end-all-be-all (really!), sleep is THAT important, why kids from "good homes" are aggressive or mean, and proves that language exposure, sign language, and baby videos are not as effective as certain natural techniques.


A pair of journalists sum up recent research on childrearing. Some is seemingly obvious:
Praise efforts, not intrinsic qualities.
Make sure children get enough sleep, in a consistent pattern.
Talk about race with children, because they're noticing on their own and they may come to erroneous conclusions. (I actually really liked part of this section, because it talks about how children watch their parents for how to respond to others--and if white kids see that their white parents only have white friends, or are uncomfortable around people of color, they'll mirror that.)
Adults are bad at telling when a child is lying, and need to respond when their children lie.
Siblings fight, but this isn't necessarily harmful or the sign of a bad relationship, and they rarely fight over parental love or attention.
Having conversations with babies helps them learn language.

I was surprised by the research into teen arguments with their parents: apparently its often motivated by a desire to connect and find agreement. It's not necessarily a sign that they're trying to destroy the relationship or that they don't respect the parent (if they truly don't respect their parent, they'll ignore them and do what they please).
And I hadn't heard that no early test for intelligence (emotional, physical, or whatever) is particularly good at predicting later intelligence or achievement; kids' intelligence scores aren't reliable until 11 or 12, because neurons, the cerebral cortex, and connections between nerve capsules are still developing, often very rapidly in short periods of time during childhood. Too, children use different clusters of their brain to think. "Smart" kids are the ones who have shifted processing to the same network as adults. The authors make a compelling argument that testing for "gifted" programs should take place later in childhood; testing preschoolers miscategorizes well over half (the authors say 73%) of children.

The ideas are interesting, but I was annoyed at the tendentious, breezy way the authors talked about the included studies. They flit from one to the next, proclaiming a single interpretation as the One Truth and then hustling along to the next topic. The lack of critical thought frustrated me and made me doubt their conclusions.


Recommended by my daughters elementary school.


It was hard to decide on a rating for this book. NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children reminded me of a Malcolm Gladwell book in both good and bad ways. Surprising and fascinating information on the one hand; on the other hand, overstated conclusions with inadequate support. The word "shock" in the title is appropriate -- shock value appeared to be more of a concern than hard evidence.

I'm more forgiving of Malcolm Gladwell because although his information may change the way you look at things, it probably won't change your life. Good science, bad science, it doesn't much matter. But if people are viewing this as a parenting book, that's a bit more of a concern (although truthfully, there's not a lot of parenting advice to be had here).

I guess what bothered me most is that the author's statements rely a great deal on correlational evidence. So yes, a connection has been established between two variables, e.g., praise and performance, sleep deprivation and obesity, etc. But correlation is not causation. Statements like "children who sleep less are fatter than children who sleep more" fail to take into account the possibility of other variables, or the possibility that the causality may actually work in the other direction. The limits of this type of research remain unacknowledged, as correlational studies are cited again and again. In general, I often felt that the authors were oversimplifying things and presenting only one side of the story.

Admittedly, not all the information in the book came across to me as pseudoscientific. But the mixture of stronger and weaker evidence leading to well-supported and not-so-well-supported statements, all expressed in an equally confident manner, made me a bit skeptical.

There's no question that NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children is an entertaining and provocative book, with stand-alone chapters allowing for it to be picked up and put down for brief train rides, bathroom visits, etc. I just think it's important to read it critically. A knowledge of statistics helps. If you don't have that, be aware of the limits of the authors' evidence and enjoy their information without swallowing it whole.