5 Biggest Myths Parents Buy Into
Is discipline how one best teaches self-control? In Nurtureshock: New Thinking About Children, award-winning journalists Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman take on this and other parenting myths.
© Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/ThinkstockIn Nurtureshock: New Thinking About Children, award-winning journalists Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman promise to “use the fascinating new science of children to reveal just how many of our bedrock assumptions about kids can no longer be counted on.” And they deliver, poking holes in everything from the notion that children are naturally blind to racial construct to the assumption that discipline is how one best teaches self-control. Here are a few more myths they take on in their book, newly released in paperback:
1. LYING. Threatening a child with punishment when he lies will eventually teach him to tell the truth. Nope. That just makes him see things in purely selfish terms: “Admitting the truth means I will suffer, so I will just keep lying.” The reason young children lie is to please you. So the best way to get them to stop lying is to say, “It would make me really happy if you told me the truth.” Eventually a child will learn that there are other reasons not to lie. But this is the way to get them to start.
2. SELF-ESTEEM. Praising a child will improve her self-confidence. By telling a child, “Wow! You’re really smart!” every time she performs even decently, you are signaling that any mistake that risks making her look dumb is to be avoided at all costs. And so she stops trying at anything even slightly difficult. Plus, it sends the message that effort isn’t important as long as you’re “smart.” Praise the effort—“You worked really hard at that!”—not the child.
3. SMARTS. If a child is gifted, you can tell by age 5. Everyone can spot a pint-sized Einstein, right? So obviously tests designed to do the same will weed out the wheat from the chaff. In fact, of every 100 kindergarteners shown to be gifted using standard intelligence tests, only 27 of them would still be considered so by third grade. “The top one percent will certainly be in the top ten percent five years later,” says Dr. Donald Rock, Senior Research Scientist with Educational Testing Service. “But kids who do quite well might not be in that position by third grade.”
4. EDUCATIONAL TV. Those cartoons on PBS are good for them, right? Not exactly. You’d think that shows about sharing and caring rather than ones that are more violent would teach children to act less aggressively. The truth is that younger children often can’t connect the “lesson” that’s presented at the end of such shows with what happened earlier. So all the conflicts involving bad behavior they don’t see as things that should be resolved, but rather instructions on how to behave.
5. BULLYING. As parents, we should insist on zero tolerance of bullying—including all teasing, name-calling and social exclusion. Anyone who’s read the news lately knows the consequences of real bullying can be deadly. But teasing and even ignoring kids on the playground is a normal (if not all that pleasant) part of growing up. A task force set up by the American Psychological Association found that in schools where the punishment is severe for kids who are guilty of simply being not very nice (which includes “good” kids as often as it does “bad” ones), anxiety levels go up.