I believe in evidence. Particularly when it comes to the important things in my life, I like to have solid evidence for why I do or don’t do something. This is why I found myself with a stack of parenting books borrowed ferom the library–all with a similar claim: to provide scientific backing to parenting choices.
Some years ago, before becoming a parent, I’d read What’s Going on in There? by neurobiologist Lise Eliot, which was my introduction to the idea of evidence-based parenting, and I found it fascinating. But I imagined that some changes had likely entered the picture since it was published in 1999. Science has a way of changing; That’s one of the things I like about it.
Enter: Einstein Never Used Flash Cards. This book brings the research up to 2003, and it is primarily a response to the well-intentioned trend of the time that had parents scrambling to get their preschoolers into academics to give them an early start (See the documentary Nursery University for more on this trend). Authors Hirsh-Pasek and Golinkoff (both child psychologists) go to great lengths to explain why this “early start” doesn’t help kids. They detail the research in child development and even provide “experiments” that parents can do with their own kids to see the process in action. They urge parents to let kids play. “Reflect, resist, and recenter,” is the advice that resonated with me from this book.
Reading this book illustrated to me just how difficult it is to talk or write about parenting. As just one example, I have some strong opinions about responding to crying babies. I’d read various evidence-based arguments for responding to babies’ cries before, but I still felt myself tense up as I read. What if this book presents evidence that I don’t want to see? It didn’t, but it was eye-opening to examine my pre-reading reaction in light of the various irrational arguments I’ve read or heard from parents about their reasons for their choices. Are we being rational? Am I?
Then we have Nurtureshock, which has probably been among the most talked about parenting books of the past couple of years. Published 10 years after Eliot’s book, this is the update for which I had been looking. It covers a lot of ground (especially considering that nearly a third of the book is back matter), but it is important ground to cover for parents, educators, and policy makers. This book changed the way I give praise to my daughter, how I look at gifted education programs, and strongly increased my empathy for teenagers. Some of my personal opinions were upheld (even more compelling reasons to respond to your crying baby!), and some were kind of shot down (spanking may not be as bad as I would like to think). But the most interesting aspect of the book was how much more balanced it seemed than the other books I read. The authors weren’t afraid to discuss research that didn’t necessarily provide a straightforward “answer.” The chatty tone of the book made it feel like the authors and readers were looking at the evidence together with a “what do you think?” rather than “this is what I think.”
Refreshing, don’t you think?
Edited to Add a couple of links: