I am not a big fan of books on parenting skills and never have been. While I consider myself a crazed learner, I have never found this genre (if you can call it that!) very compelling. Most often the things authors mention are pretty much common sense. After all, can’t most parenting be done well if one has a good measure of common sense?

Several things about NurtureShock drew my attention when I saw it in the airport bookstore. First, the title reminded me of Alvin Toffler’s book, Future Shock, and that was a pretty provocative and stimulating book. Second, the subtitle of the book is “New Thinking About Children.” Huh, I thought, that is a pretty bold claim—how much new thinking can there be about children? They have been around a pretty long time and the topic has been pretty well researched! Third, I saw a recommendation by one of my favorite authors, Daniel Pink, who wrote the very interesting book, A Whole New Mind. He claimed to be impressed by the “prodigious research and keen analysis.” He called it “one of the most important books you will read this year.” Hmm … what about the chapter titles? One look and I was ready to pull out the credit card—research on the inverse power of praise, sleep, racial awareness, rebellion, self-control, siblings—these were all things I had read and thought about as an educator and parent. What had the authors found out about these things by approaching it from a research-based position? And by the way, who were the authors? Well, actually they had won awards from prestigious groups for their previous work in the field. I bought the book and promptly read it on the long flight home.

I am always ready to rethink sacred cows, even without much research behind the discussion! How do sacred cows become sacred cows? In the area of raising children, has there been a “wisdom of the crowds” that has been passed down to us from previous generations? As a Christian, don’t I believe that God has equipped parents with the right instincts for raising children well? After immersing themselves in research for three years, the authors posit that what we describe as our “instincts” are actually intelligent, informed reactions, but that “those reactions were polluted by a hodgepodge of wishful thinking, moralistic biases, contagious fads, personal history, and old (disproven) psychology—all at the expense of common sense.” The authors go on to state that the central premise of the book is that many of our current strategies for child nurturing are backfiring because “key twists in the science have been overlooked.” They continue by exploring current thinking by topic and how new research and the rethinking of old research brings us to some different conclusions about our assumptions related to nurturing children.

To test out some of your assumptions, and to give you a flavor of the book let me ask you the following questions based on information from the book:

  • Having high self-esteem doesn’t improve grades or career achievement. True or false?
  • A change in school start time from 7:25 AM to 8:30 AM caused SAT scores of a high school’s best students to jump 56 points in math and 156 points on the verbal portion of the test in one year’s time. The students also reported lower depression rates and higher motivation to do the work. True or false?
  • Students who sleep less have higher rates of obesity. True or false?
  • Is it better or worse to talk about racial differences with children? When is the best time and when is it too late?
  • Do kids learn to lie at an early age or later in childhood?
  • Kids who lie earlier do better on tests of academic prowess. True or false?
  • Do kids grow out of lying? By what age can we tell if kids will continue to lie?
  • The normal kid’s IQ changes an average of 28.5 points between age 2.5 and 17. True or false?
  • Fifty percent of adolescents who were bored were more likely to smoke, drink, or use illegal drugs. True or false?
  • Adolescent arguing with parents peaks in early or later adolescence?
  • There is no evidence that teens are driven by “raging hormones”, and real rebellion against parents only happens 5 to 15 percent of the time. True or false?

I hope these questions piqued your interest. I don’t think I should even tell you if the answers are true or false—find out by picking up the book! This is truly a fascinating read for educators, parents, and all who work with kids. The eighteen pages of chapter notes at the end were every bit as interesting for me as the chapters themselves. For those of you who are still skeptical, I believe the fifty-two pages of sources and references will quell your doubts about the validity of the authors’ conclusions.

As a Christian educator, I found the information and conclusions in the book very supportive of what I believe. The authors conclude that, like adults, children are a complex combination of good and bad impulses (we call that sin!), and are walking contradictions in similar ways to adults. Yet they are hopeful that, through further study of the contradictions of our shared humanity as detailed in this book, we can better understand how to interact with each other. I would agree, and contend that the evidence the authors present points to a greater understanding of the complexity of humanity made in the image of a divine Creator, yet still struggling with the effects of sin. Hopefully, through lives lived intentionally and thoughtfully as adults, we can, in our interactions with children, help to bring healing, restoration, and sound, godly direction.