If NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children can actually be classified as a parenting book, it may be the least touchy-feely one ever. The new work by Po Bronson, the New York Times bestselling author of the career book What Should I Do With My Life?, delights in showing that most parental intuition and supposedly common knowledge about child rearing is just bullshit, and he has the facts to prove it. Much like in his previous work, he’s entered a genre known for emotional cheese, and produced a book that’s hard to put down and easy to take seriously.
NurtureShock is essentially a collection of research on child development done by experts across the world. Chapters cover everything from how pre-school kids learn to why teenagers seem perpetually pissed-off. The science is well explained and studded with examples, so it never seems dry or dumbed-down. The facts are the real strength behind the narrative, which adeptly contextualizes strange truths: Brain scans show that teenagers process the signals related to excitement in ways most commonly found in hardened drug addicts, experiencing a big rush or nothing at all. Kids who are praised for being smart are more likely to fail future tests. Children have a strong impulse to racially segregate.
Bronson periodically relates experiences he’s had with his own family, but he never borders on making NurtureShock about him. He’s merely trying to show how far from the truth his own prior expectations were, and how hard it is to break down conditioned responses and implement new ways of dealing with kids.
Even readers without children might be prone to self-analysis. The book regularly stresses the importance of factors like getting enough sleep during high school and learning how to keep at a task without getting constantly distracted, with plenty of long-term studies providing the hard evidence. While it doesn’t aggressively call for policy changes, the book does regularly note the gaping flaws in America’s education system, and strikes down some sacred cows like D.A.R.E. as essentially useless. The idea seems to be to get the data out there and hope parents, teachers, the government, and anyone else dealing with children take it to heart.