Rarely does a parenting book generate so much buzz that even the pre-publication reviews of it spin out into blog posts and dinner-party discussions. But that’s exactly what happened with Nurtureshock: New Thinking about Children, by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. Bronson says it’s not a parenting book so much as it is a book about ideas, backed by “tons of science.” Whatever it is, it’s turning much of the conventional wisdom about parenting on its head. Bronson spoke with us via phone from San Francisco, where he lives with his wife, son and daughter. – Amy Kuras
How did you come upon all the fascinating topics for the book?
We looked at things that surprised us. If we knew something, and we thought “I know this and everybody knows this, other people around us know this,” then we didn’t write about it. We looked for bodies of research that were telling us something we didn’t know already.
If I could turn the clock back three-and-a-half years, I would have thought it was important to praise your kids all the time. I would have told you that if you raise your children in a diverse environment, you never talk about race; you let the environment be the message. I would have thought my kids would grow out of lying eventually. I never would have thought sleep would have had anything to do with obesity. I know kids need sleep, but I wouldn’t have known it was so crucial. I would have thought, yes you can test kids for intelligence, that those kids who were bright at five-years-old will be bright down the road. You know, when my kids become teenagers they would be fine because we’re such buddies now, and that it’s important to expose your kids to a language-rich environment, that that is what will help them talk really well. I thought that when my kids were talking in full sentences at two it was a function of that. Every chapter is something that surprised me.
How did you choose conventional wisdom about how we raise children as a topic for the book in the first place?
We were working on a story about the science of ambition, interviewing really ambitious grownups, and then talked about how their attitudes formed. In that context we stumbled into Carol Dweck’s [seminal] work on praise. She has reproduced her work on everything from preschoolers to med school students – lots of populations.
What we were intrigued by was the fact that her work was published in 1994 [but it wasn’t] getting out into the air. In an era of so much parenting advice why had really good convincing science not infiltrated the conventional wisdom?
After we wrote about the science of praise, we were supposed to get back to the science of ambition, but we were so curious: Were there other dimensions of child research that were not recognized as being as meaningful and substantive as they were? We started going to some conferences and were surprised at how much we found.