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'NurtureShock' Authors on Research and Practice

Last week, I talked about "NurtureShock:, a new book by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman that seeks to apply emerging science to the practice of parenthood. Though the book is not intended as a how-to, I was curious about how the findings they discussed get put into practice. What follows is a portion of a conversation with the authors:

On Parenting: Why is there so little evidence-based parenting?

Po: A lot of people are working on their hunches. A single study pops up in the media, but there are hundreds of things that might totally contradict it. It takes a real cross-disciplinary effort to sort it all out.

Ashley: The process by which a finding gets put into practice and validated is a slow process. Because the science takes so long, there are people who grab a certain piece of information and just go with it.

On Parenting: We all run little labs in our homes, trying out this or that on our own kids. What from the book has been easiest to put into practice?

Po: I've changed how I've raised my kids. I've tried to speak to them with more sincerity, so they can know when they need to turn it up a notch. And I've changed how I talked to my kids about lying. Rather than punishment, I tell them, "you'll make me really happy if you tell the truth." The biggest trend has been honestly and sincerely.

Ashley: I am not a parent but I've been tutoring kids. It was my stated intent that I was going to build up these kids self-esteem and make up for all of the discouragement in their lives. But when I read the research [demonstrating that praising intelligence, rather than hard work, often backfires], I found it scary. But it works. Suddenly I have these new relationships that count for more than when I was praising students for their smarts.

On Parenting: Was anything tough to apply?

Po: Learning to talk about race openly was very difficult. It has gradually built up over two years.

On Parenting: The danger with looking at "science" is that big studies can hide individual variation. Should we all just stick with what the studies say or is there room for parental intuition -- knowing that our kids won't respond the way the "average" kid does in a study?

Po: There were a lot of times we saw things were fascinating, but it was clear that there were a lot of situations where children who didn't fit the research were still OK, so we tried to avoid writing about that. One example that comes to mind is bullying. When we looked at it, each actual bully is different. Making broad scientific statements in this area can be harmful. We also held back when it came to gender difference. People jump on that and tend to overweigh boy-girl differences.

On Parenting: Finally -- this is the big question -- what constitutes success as a parent? High achievement? Happiness? Respect?

Ashley: We definitely weren't interested in a book about building the superkid. I don't buy into the idea that parents want a superkid. Even if you're talking to your most aggressive parent, if you ask them if he wants his kid to go to Harvard, it's not because that's an end in itself. It's because the parent wants a fulfilled life and experiences for his child. And what we all want for our kids is equally complex.

By Brian Reid |  September 9, 2009; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Child Development
Previous: Will President Obama Warp Your Children Today? | Next: Back to School for Me, Too

Comments


Stunningly dull.

Posted by: jezebel3 | September 9, 2009 7:29 AM | Report abuse

FIX IT.
n-u-R-t-u-r-e

IT'S IN 3 PLACES ON THIS PAGE ALONE.

seriously.

Posted by: robjdisc | September 9, 2009 7:58 AM | Report abuse

"It takes a real cross-disciplinary effort to sort it all out."

Exactly what I wrote last week. It's essentially useless.

Posted by: 06902 | September 9, 2009 8:22 AM | Report abuse

Ever get a reference for that "200 point jump in SAT scores from starting school an hour later" assertion made last week? I still can't find that study reported anywhere.

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | September 9, 2009 8:42 AM | Report abuse

robjdisc
"Nutureshock" - it either has something to do with the shock of being neutered or is something akin to future shock.

These two quotes say it all...
"Ashley: I am not a parent but..."
"Po: ...it was clear that there were a lot of situations where children who didn't fit the research were still OK, so we tried to avoid writing about that."

Um, your not a parent, but you co-wrote a parenting book?
Um, you pick and choose which "science" to report and especially where it appears that there just may be a flaw in the study?

I agree, this is useless.

Posted by: VaLGaL | September 9, 2009 8:53 AM | Report abuse

http://www.webmd.com/parenting/news/20050606/better-grades-more-sleep-later-classes

AB - this webMD articles references a June 2005 article in Pediatrics

http://health.usnews.com/articles/health/healthday/2009/06/10/as-sleep-improves-grades-seem-to-go-up.html

http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1903838,00.html

And these articles from US News and Time reference a 2009 study performed by University of Pittsburg. Both articles talk about a relationship between adequate sleep and grades. Maybe you can get the actual report from the University if you are really interested.
I can't find even an article mentioning SAT scores - I suspect that is a logic leap from these articles.

Posted by: VaLGaL | September 9, 2009 9:05 AM | Report abuse

I would also like to see the "200 point jump in SAT" study from last week.

This jumped out at me:

"Rather than punishment, I tell them, "you'll make me really happy if you tell the truth." The biggest trend has been honestly and sincerely."

I don't tell my kids that them doing something will make me "happy" when the better explanation is because it is right. Actually, this is a bit baffling - are you raising brown nosers or kids that know right from wrong?

So much for Po, perhaps Tinky Winky and Dispy have better information.

Posted by: cheekymonkey | September 9, 2009 9:08 AM | Report abuse

valgal: of course, it's easier to have a parenting perspective if one is a parent.
But there are plenty of people who don't have first hand knowledge of things, yet are studying it or whatever.
If you don't have a kid with autism, can you not teach about autism? research it?

etc...

Posted by: atlmom1234 | September 9, 2009 9:13 AM | Report abuse

Sure, atlmom, but these folks are not scientific researchers, they are writing a parenting book that compiles, and apparently interprets, other people's research. Maybe that's a fine line, but in my experience people who don't have kids don't really give the best parenting advice. Being a tutor really does not compare to parenting. Nor would I take medical advice from someone who has been in the hospital...

Posted by: VaLGaL | September 9, 2009 9:46 AM | Report abuse

Wasn't the book published by the same company that owns the Washington Post? So this is basically advertising for another of the company's products. The book itself appears to be useless -- more of the same stuff churned up and regurgitated. Ho hum.

Posted by: margaret6 | September 9, 2009 10:42 AM | Report abuse

Maybe that's a fine line, but in my experience people who don't have kids don't really give the best parenting advice. Being a tutor really does not compare to parenting. Nor would I take medical advice from someone who has been in the hospital...

Posted by: VaLGaL | September 9, 2009 9:46 AM | Report abuse

The doctors who delivered my kids were all men....

Posted by: jezebel3 | September 9, 2009 10:43 AM | Report abuse

The doctors who delivered my kids were all men....


Posted by: jezebel3

I suspect they also attended medical school and did not get their training from watching TLC programs. And that mens your statement supports my point. If the men who delivered your children were, say accountants who had observed their wives give birth, that would be in opposition to my point.

Posted by: VaLGaL | September 9, 2009 10:52 AM | Report abuse

I agree with atlmom. Just because someone doesn't have kids doesn't automatically disqualify them from being able to write intelligently about parenting. In some ways it's actually better because as a parent, it's easy to simply say that whatever worked for you and your children will work for everyone.

Posted by: dennis5 | September 9, 2009 11:52 AM | Report abuse

Re: "Um, you pick and choose which 'science' to report... ?"

Well, yeah. If you look back at what he actually said, the criterion was whether "children who didn't fit the research were still OK." In other words, if the research showed that doing something one way rather than another did NOT make a clear, positive difference to the children, they didn't include it. That's not a matter of being a parenting expert, or a parent; it's all about evaluating what you read from the standpoint of "Is it good science?"

I'm with dennis5: Being a parent does not make one a parenting expert. Someone who's read, compared, and evaluated the research is far more of an "expert" -- and these guys definitely did that.

Posted by: PLozar | September 9, 2009 12:38 PM | Report abuse

I haven't read the original article, but just based on the this follow-up post, I wanted to respond to the statement that there are few evidence-based parenting books. In the field of psychology, there are several experts that have described methods with considerable research backing, most based on the same basic principles. McMahon & Forehand (Helping the noncompliant child); Developers of the SOS Program for Parents and Alan Kazdin at Yale.

Posted by: k1omal | September 9, 2009 1:01 PM | Report abuse

I was intrigued enough by last week's mention of the book to get it last week. (Head to Costco if you want a good deal!) I'll reserve judgement totally on the book until I've finished reading it, but I am really enjoying it so far, and the writing is excellent. I've read some of Alan Kazdin's work and I have put it into practice myself, both professionally and personally, as a parent myself. Parenting advice based on scientific research that challenges some of the 'conventional wisdom' can be intimidating to many. But in the interest of being a better parent, I think it's worthwhile to be open to reading differnt viewpoints and scientific-based research.

Posted by: HuckleberryFriend | September 9, 2009 1:23 PM | Report abuse

"There were a lot of times we saw things were fascinating, but it was clear that there were a lot of situations where children who didn't fit the research were still OK, so we tried to avoid writing about that."

What does that statement imply about what they DID write?

If kids who didn't fit the research were still okay, we didn't write about it.

Take the logical contrapositive:

If we wrote about it, then kids who didn't fit the research were NOT okay.

So they wrote about stuff where you MUST do it this way or your kid winds up warped and messed up.

Huh?

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | September 9, 2009 1:25 PM | Report abuse

(Head to Costco if you want a good deal!)

Posted by: HuckleberryFriend | September 9, 2009 1:23 PM | Report abuse

The public library is free or nearly free.
Free reviews:

http://www.amazon.com/NurtureShock-New-Thinking-About-Children/dp/0446504122/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1252517280&sr=8-1

"Po" looks like one of the kids in "The Village of the Damned". Weird.

Posted by: jezebel3 | September 9, 2009 1:37 PM | Report abuse

ArmyBrat, if you are going to take that statement to the extreme, then yes, he's saying that's what they wrote about. That's their whole point - there are some areas of parenting where research has shown that doing things one way does make a significant difference over doing things another way.

It's certainly possible and probably very likely that there are some facets of parenting where there really are better and worse ways of doing things. The authors attempted to find research that identifies these areas.

Posted by: dennis5 | September 9, 2009 2:03 PM | Report abuse

The authors attempted to find research that identifies these areas.

Posted by: dennis5

But the way I read that statement is that they manipulated the available data to support their findings. In other words, they left out the studies where the study apparently says that there IS a "correct" thing to do, but the reality of many children did not fit that finding which brings the whole theory into question. They left out the body of research that did not fit their theory. That's what the big tobacco companies did years ago and they were able to point to "science" that supported the premise that smoking was not harmful.

On the other point, I never said that being a parent makes a person a parenting expert - that's a goofy statement and I am living proof that it's not true. What I said was this person is claiming to be a parenting expert and writing a book telling parents what to do when she has never done it herself. Many ideas look good on paper, but don't work in the real world - and I absolutely disagree that a person can become an "expert" on DOING a thing and yet never have done that thing. They might be an expert in the *theory* of the thing, but not in the thing itself. For example, I know a law professor who is an expert in his field of academia, but that professor could not represent a client in real life because he has no practical experience with judges, other lawyers, procedure, etc. He's a theoretical expert and a great legal mind, but I would not want him to represent me because theory does not always work in the real world.

I would take parenting advice from a never-parent with a fist full of salt - just as I would take swimming instruction from a non-swimmer with a fist full of salt and a lifejacket.

Posted by: VaLGaL | September 9, 2009 2:22 PM | Report abuse

dennis - that was my point. Having raised 4 children (to the ages of 20, 18, 17 and 12 so far), I can think of almost nothing that is guaranteed to be always right or always wrong. The kids are so different that, for example, praising one for diligent effort gets appreciation and redoubled effort, while praising another for the same diligent effort draws resentment - she only wants praise for RESULTS.

Maybe I'm wrong, but I would think that the number of things that would always right or always wrong for all children would be somewhat small and maybe obvious. (And to be honest, I don't really want to buy the book to find out. :-)

The bottom line is that I don't see anything wrong with what this bond trader- turned novelist and VP-speechwriter are peddling, but I'm not sure that there's anything earth-shattering or groundbreaking there. Talk to your kids with more sincerity? What, you were lying through your teeth to them before?

Change how you talk to your kids about lying - praise honesty instead of criticizing the lie? Really? Seriously? If I ask my 18 year old if he was drinking at the party, he'll respond differently if I say "and it will make me really happy if you tell me the truth" than if I say "and if I find out you lied to me you lose the car for two weeks?" Really - that will make a difference?

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | September 9, 2009 2:51 PM | Report abuse

This is slightly off topic. I can understand that as a nonparent people don't want my opinions on their parenting techniques. That is perfectly fine with me. However, as a soon-to-be-parent, I have a lot of opinions about how I plan to raise my kids - which I think is only normal. What I don't understand is why existing parents think it is totally acceptable to show no respect for my plans, brushing them aside with "talk to me in five years..." Why is that okay?

Posted by: JJ321 | September 9, 2009 3:24 PM | Report abuse

JJ: "What I don't understand is why existing parents think it is totally acceptable to show no respect for my plans, brushing them aside with "talk to me in five years..." Why is that okay?"

Everyone has a plan 'till they get punched in the mouth. - Mike Tyson

Because the parents all had their own plans on how they'd raise kids, and then reality intervened and it didn't work out like they planned, and they're convinced the same thing's going to happen to you.

Yes, people could/should probably show you a little more respect and not brush you off so cavalierly; we could all treat each other with more respect sometimes. But the point some parents are trying to make is that you can make all the plans you want, as long as you have a plan B for when you have twins, or plan C when your child has different skills than you figured, or plan D when the economy affects you more than you thought it would, or plan E when your boss is less friendly to your work/life balance than you thought, or plan F when....

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | September 9, 2009 3:38 PM | Report abuse

VaLGaL, I read it that they left out subjects where they didn't find conclusive research/evidence. That is, I interpret their statement to mean if they found a conflicting research on a subject, they left that subject out of the book. Not that they only included the research that supported their theory and left out the studies that contradicted them.

And in your first statement "Um, your not a parent, but you co-wrote a parenting book?", you clearly imply that you do not consider non-parents qualified to write a book about parenting. I disagree with that.

Armybrat, I'm guessing the lying thing is geared towards younger kids, not teenagers. I'm certainly open to the idea that saying one thing rather than another might really be more effective with 80% of kids.

And to use your example of prasing your kids for effort versus results. Prior to this book, I saw studies that show praising for effort is more effective than praising for attributes - "You worked hard" versus "You're really smart". Again, it didn't hold for all kids, but a large majority responded better to praise for effort.

Obviously every kid isn't the same and they are not all going to respond the same to things. But if something is shown to have an 85% success rate (however you want to define success), then doesn't it make sense that you should try that first?

Posted by: dennis5 | September 9, 2009 3:52 PM | Report abuse

JJ321,

To add to what AB said, a lot of it is because many parents-to-be (not saying you specifically) tend to be pretty rigid and smug about their plans. They come off as know-it-alls and have an attitude that they are going to be perfect parents and have perfect children. And as AB said, they aren't open to the possibility that anything can go wrong with their grand plan.

Again, I'm not saying specifically that you are like this, but a lot of people are.

Posted by: dennis5 | September 9, 2009 3:57 PM | Report abuse

you clearly imply that you do not consider non-parents qualified to write a book about parenting.
Posted by: dennis5

Not only do I imply it, I firmly state it. And you are welcome to disagree, that's sort of why we are here, yes? Would you like a life jacket? :)

Posted by: VaLGaL | September 9, 2009 4:04 PM | Report abuse

ArmyBrat - thanks... I understand you are trying to be helpful, but your post makes my point. Parents are extremely sensitive to outside input from nonparents, but feel no reservations suggesting the plans of future parents are anything but silly... we are all aware that life is full of plans B, C, D, E, F... it doesn't take kids to figure that out and it also doesn't mean you stop planning. I guess you are right... we all need a little more respect.

That said, perhaps I am just oversenstive - I am 7 mos pregnant and recently spent too much time with my know-it-all sisters-in-law.

Posted by: JJ321 | September 9, 2009 4:11 PM | Report abuse

Dennis5 - you have a point too. I will try to be more aware of how I come off. I doubt most new parents really think their "grand plan" will go as planned. Sometimes the more confident you act about something, the more you are trying to convince yourself as well (e.g. "my kid will not throw temper tantrums" probably means "please god don't let my kid throw temper tantrums!").

Posted by: JJ321 | September 9, 2009 4:21 PM | Report abuse

"please god don't let my kid throw temper tantrums!").

Posted by: JJ321


JJ, I say this little prayer every morning when it's time to put on pants...like Father, like son.

Posted by: VaLGaL | September 9, 2009 4:32 PM | Report abuse

This is the latest NurtureShock blog entry:
"Can Extracurricular Activities Solve the Self-segregation Problem?"

They start with the straw man:
"In American high schools today, it’s taken as a given that extracurricular activities bring students of different races together.”

Then, they move to the science:
"Then his graduate students found every photograph of every track team, French club and (yes) Yearbook Club that existed in those 193 yearbooks. This was over 4,400 sports teams and another 4,400 more clubs, each with roughly a couple dozen members on average – ultimately equivalent to a poll of over 150,000 students. It was painstaking work to catalog the race of every kid in every photo. "

Then the result:
"The average club was 39% less diverse than the school itself, meaning most of the clubs and sports teams were less integrated than the classrooms.”

So, I guess if you accept their straw man proposal (clubs help desegregation) then the science shows otherwise. It's another headscratcher for me, since I've never heard anyone suggest that extracurricular activities help desegregation. If I’m a parent and my child is in a club that is less integrated than the school (like in the study), why would I think that participating in the club with help with desegregation?

Anyone ever track down that 200-point SAT study?

I'm not saying NurtureShock doesn't have some good stuff but this doesn't reach the heights of Freakonomics (their target?). I do like hearing the voice of the non-parent in this conversation; sometimes insights come from outsiders. (the Mike Tyson quote, though, is great)

Posted by: KS100H | September 10, 2009 10:17 AM | Report abuse

Please allow me to reply for both Po and myself.

First, a couple of readers have asked for a source for the SAT improvement relating to sleep. Sorry for the delay in answering, but I've been traveling so I hadn't seen that question. That data comes from Univ. of Minnesota professor Kyla Wahlstrom. While she has published many reports on school start times, the 200+ in the SAT scores comes from interviews and correspondence between Dr. Wahlstrom and myself. If you have interest in learning about our other sources, we have a selected bibliography of 700 references and 7,000 words of footnotes included in NurtureShock: they are available in the published book and an online excerpt available at: http://tinyurl.com/oj4hnw

As to the broader points made in the comments, first, I must clarify a key point. NurtureShock is not a parenting advice book. It is, instead, reporting about the cutting edge research in children's lives. We have no interest in rattling off some pieces of advice or issuing edicts of "right" and "wrong" ways to do things. We want to truly explore how the scientists are researching the issues facing children and parents – with enough information that caregivers may decide on their own if the information applies to them.

Regarding Mr. Reid's question relating to individual differences, Po responded that some topic are so entirely dependent on people's individual experiences, then there was little value in our writing about the general findings of the science – since the only thing we could write would be that everyone's experiences are different. So instead we chose other topics, where the science could see more universal trends – something like kids' sleep or the effect of praise on kids. For those topics we did report on, we included all of the relevant research, and we absolutely disagree with any claim to the contrary. Again, for more information about our work, please feel free to see the online excerpt.

Next, I also obviously object to claims that I shouldn't have written this book because I am not a parent. Po is a father of two, and I have run a non-profit tutoring program for the past decade. In that time, I have worked with over 800 kids, and I've closely mentored about 50 children. I am there when kids enter kindergarten, and I'm still there when they graduate from high school. If a parent-only standard for writing books about kids negates my experience – then teachers, counselors, physicians and all other caregivers would be similarly prohibited from writing about children. And I do believe that our experiences in classrooms, after-school programs, youth groups, etc. is a valid and important contribution to any dialogue about children.

Finally, NurtureShock was published by Twelve, an affiliate of Hachette Book Group; HBG is not involved with the Washington Post. Mr. Reid's decision to write about the book was wholly his own, and we are very grateful that he chose to do so.

Posted by: AshleyMerryman | September 10, 2009 3:39 PM | Report abuse

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