Discussion of NurtureShock, Chapter 9 "Plays Well With Others"

We're talking about NurtureShock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman allsummer. One chapter every Friday. Jump in whenever you'd like. The first week we talked about Chapter 1 about praise. The second week we talked about Chapter 2 about sleep. The third week we talked about talking about race with your kids. The fourth week we talked about why kids lie and how we're inadvertently promoting that. The fifth week we talked about intelligence testing for preschoolers for school placement purposes. The sixth week we talked about how having siblings socializes children. The seventh week we talked about why teens lie to their parents and engage in risky behavior. Last week we talked about how to teach kids self-control. This week we're talking about what makes kids act violently.

This chapter, entitled "Plays Well With Others," irked me. A lot. I felt like the whole thing was a series of hit-and-run accidents. They dropped bomb after bomb but didn't really parse them out or help situate them, so I ended the chapter feeling confused and not sure what to do with the information. Which made me sad, because I've really enjoyed the rest of the book so far and have found it to be just about exactly the right amount of information on each topic to make me think more but not to make me obsess.

In the order in which it's presented in the chapter, here's what they told us:

  • There are three kinds of aggression kids perform: physical aggression, relational aggression, and verbal aggression.
  • Kids who watch educational TV programs acted more relationally aggressive than did kids who didn't watch educational TV, or who watched things traditionally thought to be "violent" (like Star Wars and Power Rangers).
  • Educational TV watching increased the rate of physical aggression as much as watching violent shows did.
  • Kids who see their parents fight  are stressed out if the parents don't show them how they resolve the conflict. If they see their parents fight but then come to a resolution, they did not display symptoms of stress or more aggression.
  • Spanking kids and using corporal punishment increased rates of aggression in kids EXCEPT in African-American families and white Conservative Protestant families, in which kids who were spanked showed less aggression over time.
  • Bullying is bad, so parents are getting excited about zero tolerance, but that makes kids afraid of the adults and secretive.
  • People think that aggressive kids are kids without social skills, but the kids who are most effective at being aggressive are the ones with the best social skills (think Mean Girls).
  • Parents who stop their kids form being aggressive may be stripping their kids of social tools.
  • Kids spend so much time with each other instead of with multi-generational groups that they're in an echo chamber, and this feeds aggression and lack of perspective.
  • "Progressive Dads," who are very involved and competent with their kids, actually have more aggressive kids than do "traditional Dads" who are involved more at their partners' direction. This seems to be because Progressive Dads know they don't want to discipline the way they were disciplined, but don't know how to stay consistent for disciplinary effectiveness.

Do you have whiplash? I do. And I have NO IDEA what to do with this information.

I'm not going to start spanking my kids as discipline. (I am a white Protestant, although conservative theologically but not.) Of all my reasons for not spanking them, fear that they would become more aggressive didn't even come into play. So I don't really have any idea what to do with the studies that show that in some US subcultures spanking increases aggression while in others it doesn't. I can understand that Bronson and Merryman were kind of tripped out by this, but it seems like it's missing the point, both of studying spanking and of studying aggressive behavior in kids. And I really can't judge because there just wasn't enough about it here.

I also couldn't really figure out where they were going with the discussion of social kids and aggression. Were they saying we should work harder to get the social kids not to be aggressive? Or that we shouldn't worry about it because aggression is another tool humans use in daily interactions? I couldn't figure it out.

Of all the chapters, this is the one I really wish they'd turned into an entire book, mostly because I think they'd *really* be able to look at all the aspects of the aggression issue to figure out if it's something to be avoided or something we should accept. As it is, this chapter just seems raw and unhelpful.

If Bronson and Merryman's people are reading, please consider exploring this mish-mash of a chapter in a long form that lets you tease out all the information instead of just tossing it together.

Did anyone feel this chapter was more comprehensible than I did? What did you take from it?