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Po Bronson on Nurtureshock

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Po Bronson argues that when it comes to raising children, we've mistaken good intentions for good ideas.
Listen to the whole interview:

In his new book, Nurtureshock: New Thinking about Children, written with Ashley Merryman, Po Bronson sifts through many of the common behaviors of parents raising children. Bronson argues that many parents are unaware of how praise, tattling, lying, punishment and even bedtime are linked to issues of childhood independence, self-esteem and obesity.

"There are key areas in which some of the assumptions we make are contradictory to scientific records," says Bronson. "A lot of parents tell me that they're proud to be doing something good, like being more affectionate [to their children]. In many dimensions they are doing the opposite of the authoritarian parent they've had." But apparently, the more lenient or "progressive" a parent is, the more their child may be likely to act out. A study Bronson cited of a middle school showed "progressive" dad's kids were acting up in class as much as the children of the "deadbeat" dads. "What it seems to be about is inconsistency at home," says Bronson.

According to Bronson's research, it is the progressive parents who are unsure of how to punish their child. "When it comes to disciplining their child, progressive dads are sort of embarrassed to do it, weren't counting on having to do this as a part of fatherhood, and as a result are often inconsistent." It all amounts to confusion as a result of different punishments received from lenient parents. "The inconsistency ends up leading to kids becoming more socially aggressive."

Perhaps one of the most obvious reasons parents give their children attention or praise is in order to enhance self-esteem. "We praise our kids all the time to boost their confidence," says Bronson. An experiment conducted by Dr. Carol Dweck of Standford University created a scenario in which a class of elementary-aged children were given a version of an IQ test. Half the children who completed the test were told, "You did well; you must be smart." while the other half were told, "You did well; you must work hard." The class then took another test and the children who were told they must be hard workers did considerably better. "Praising kids for intelligence teaches them this construct that intelligence is innate and then once they begin to experience difficulty, they don't have a variable they can control to help them deal with failure," says Bronson. "Praising them for the effort highlights the idea about how hard you work, how much you roll up your sleeves."

Praise can impact children later on, especially when is comes to image maintenance and self-esteem, says Bronson. "They get the message that being smart is the only thing that counts. They become obessed with manipulating their image and become afraid of taking risks that might make them look...not smart."

As for how these finding have changed Bronson own parenting, "I began to understand that praising my kids was an effort to manipulate their perception and maybe I should be honest and sincere with my kids first." -- Khayeni Sanders, Video by Chaleampon Oates Ritthichai

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