“Nurture Shock” by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman Part One

See some other ideas about parenthood and childhood development in “Bringing up Bebe” and “What’s Going On In There?” This book was a very realistic look at how carried away some parents have become in trying to shape their children’s psychological development. I’m certainly a fan of positive reinforcement but let’s admit that everyone can’t be a winner in everything we do. Failure builds character. Failure teaches us how to bounce back. Failure teaches us how to analyze what we did wrong. Hopefully through that self-analysis we can apply those lessons to future challenges and do better.

  1. The continued appeal of self-esteem is largely tied to parents’ pride in their children’s achievements: it’s so strong that “when they praise their kids, it’s not that far from praising themselves.”
  2. But it turns out that the ability to repeatedly respond to failure by exerting more effort– instead of simply giving up– is a trait well studied in psychology. People with this trait, persistence, rebound well and can sustain their motivation through long periods of delayed gratification.
  3. The surprise is not merely that sleep matters– but how much it matters, demonstrably, not just to academic performance and emotional stability, but to phenomena that we assumed to be entirely unrelated, such as the international obesity epidemic and the rise of ADHD. A few scientists theorize that sleep problems during formative years can cause permanent changes in a child’s brain structure– damage that one can’t sleep off like a hangover. It’s even been possible that many of the hallmark characteristics of being a tweener and teen– moodiness, depression, and even binge eating– are actually just symptoms of chronic sleep deprivation.
  4. Sleep loss debilitates the body’s ability to extract glucose from the bloodstream. Without this stream of basic energy, one part of the brain suffers more than the rest– the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for what’s called “Executive Function.” Among these executive functions are the orchestration of thoughts to fulfill a goal, prediction of outcomes, and perceiving consequences of actions. So tired people have difficulty with impulse control, and their abstract goals like studying take a back seat to more entertaining diversions.
  5. Perhaps more fascinating, the emotional context of a memory affects where it gets processed. Negative stimuli get processed by the amygdala; positive or neutral memories get processed by the hippocampus. Sleep deprivation hits the hippocampus harder than the amygdala. The result is that sleep-deprived people fail to recall pleasant memories, yet recall gloomy memories just fine.
  6. Sleep is a biological imperative for every species on earth. But humans alone try to resist its pull. Instead, we see sleep not as a physical need but a statement of character. It’s considered a sign of weakness to admit fatigue– and it’s a sign of strength to refuse to succumb to slumber. Sleep is for wusses.
  7. Bigler’s experiment seems to show how children will use whatever you give them to create divisions– seeming to confirm that race becomes an issue only if we make it an issue. So why does Bigler think it’s important to talk to children about race, as early as age three? Her reasoning is that kids are developmentally prone to in-group favoritism; they’re going to form these preferences on their own. (See #26 in “The Organized Mind” about group distinction). Children categorize everything from food to toys to people at a young age. However, it takes years before their cognitive abilities allow them to successfully use more than one attribute to categorize anything. In the meantime, the attribute they rely on is that which is the most clearly visible.
  8. Essentialism: the spontaneous tendency to assume your group shares characteristics– such as niceness, or smarts. Kids never think groups are random.
  9. The better a young child can distinguish a lie from the truth, the more likely she is to lie given the chance. Researchers test children with elegant anecdotes, and ask, “Did Suzy tell a lie or tell the truth?” The kids who know the difference are also the most prone to lie. Ignorant of this scholarship, many parenting web sites and books advise parents to just let lies go– kids will grow out of it. The truth is, kids grow into it.
  10. A child who is going to lie must recognize the truth, intellectually conceive of an alternate reality, and be able to convincingly sell that new reality to someone else. Therefore, lying demands both advanced cognitive development and social skills that honesty simply doesn’t require. Indeed, kids who start lying at two or three– or who can control verbal leakage at four or five– do better on other tests of academic prowess. “Lying is related to intelligence,” confirmed Talwar, “but you still have to deal with it.”
  11. When asked if lies are always wrong, 92% of five-year-olds say yes. And when asked why lies are wrong, most say the problem with lying is you get punished for it. In that sense, young kids process the risk of lying by considering their own self-protection. It takes years for the children to understand lying on a more sophisticated moral ground. It isn’t until age eleven that the majority demonstrate awareness of its harm to others; at that point, 48% say the problem with lying is that it destroys trust, and 22% say it carries guilt. Even then, a third still say the problem with lying is being punished.
  12. In studies, scholars find that kids who live in threat of consistent punishment don’t lie less. Instead, they become better liars, at an earlier age– learning to get caught less often.

NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children

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