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Today from 2-3 p.m. PST: Author Po Bronson takes your questions about his book NurtureShock!


nurtureshock_bookcoverJoin Sandra as she chats with Po Bronson, the author (with Ashley Merryman) of NurtureShock. The central premise of the book is that many of modern society's strategies for nurturing children are in fact backfiring—because key twists in the science have been overlooked.

Here's a 3-minute video by Po and Ashley about the book.

Po Bronson has built a career both as a successful novelist and as a prominent writer of narrative nonfiction. He has published six books, and he has written for television, magazines, and newspapers, including the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, and for National Public Radio's Morning Edition.

Po Bronson's book of social documentary, What Should I Do With My Life?, was a #1 New York Times bestseller and remained in the Top 10 for nine months.

Submit your questions for Po as a comment below, and he will respond from 2-3 p.m. PST today!

Note: Hit refresh frequently during the chat to stay up-to-date on the discussion.



Big fan of Po Bronson, although may have to post my question early. Can’t wait.

Oscar Sunday

I’ll be there Thursday…!

Janice B.

I saw the NY magazine piece about the studies that show that kids who are praised for “being smart” rather than for “working hard” grow up to fail. (Because if they try something once and don’t succeed, they give up.) Chilling. I don’t have kids but it resonated (with me personally).


Argh–reading the book now. Another scary factoid: teens get an hour less sleep per night than they used to which results in a 7-point loss of IQ points!


I can’t believe the same praise works (or doesn’t) for boys and girls. I think girls need to be reassured that they ARE smart, particularly in middle school.


Well Eckhardt Tolle says TV is a good meditation. . . beats biting the piano.


Question for Po: the economist Bryan Caplan, in his book “Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids,” suggests we might as well all relax because in the long run what counts is genetics, for the most part. He cites studies of twins raised separately etc. What do you think of this idea? Are we all obsessing pointlessly over something we can’t, ultimately, influence?



I am planning to participate in the live chat, but I wanted to pre-post my question in case others had a similar concern/interest. It has to do with the application of the findings in NurtureShock about talking about race.

The book came out shortly after the birth of my second child and when my first was almost 3. Because of the chapter on race and racism, I made a conscientious effort to talk openly about racial differences with my daughter. (I am biracial and a woman of color. My kids, on the other hand, look white.) We had books that talked about differences in skin color and different bodies. My daughter freely used descriptions like “the woman with the dark brown skin”; “skin that is light brown, like yours, Mama”; “light skin, like Daddy’s.”

But we still had conversations where she would say: “I don’t like people with dark brown skin that I don’t know.” Me: “…” Then, “How come, honey?” Her: “I don’t know.” “Well, sweetie, it’s probably because of the way racism is built into our culture and you’re receiving subtly coded messages about racial hierarchies.” No, I didn’t actually say that.

Without going into too much detail, I had another situation where my attempt to talk about segregation (we were listening to Sweet Honey in the Rock) backfired on me in a tragic/hilarious/shameful way. (I’m actually planning to write about this on my blog,, where I deal with race and parenting and other sticky issues)

To get to the point, when talking about race with small children, I feel like it’s two separate steps. One is to acknowledge that people have bodily characteristics that make them look different from each other, like skin color, hair texture, and eye shape. The other is that they may feel that people ARE different because of how they look, and we call this prejudice, and it’s wrong because people everywhere are smart/dumb, beautiful/ugly, silly/serious what-have-you no matter what “race” they are. And you, my child, may feel prejudice because humans, as a species, group people into Us/Not Us, and also because of patterns of prejudice in American culture… but it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. But don’t do it.

So — uh, what do I tell my kid? What is age-appropriate for toddlerhood and preschool? These issues are complex for adults to articulate, never mind trying to break it down for a child.

I’d be curious to know if Po Bronson can add extra details that might not have fit into the book and also to see if other parents have grappled with this and what solutions they have found.

Thanks! Looking forward to the discussion! Anoosh


I also wonder, like K-la_123, if anyone has broken down the studies on praise by gender. I’m particularly curious about girls at age 9 and higher, since apparently an NYU study found a drop in confidence and self-esteem at that age.

70s School Dropout Mom

I worried about my son’s inner drive to succeed at everything. He seemed unable or unwilling to try anything that he wasn’t going to be absolutely great at. Of course, he worked hard to be good at the things he did try, but it seemed like trying and failing was not an option. He put so much pressure on himself that I never wanted to put pressure on him. I worried that he was too hard on himself and would end up with ulcers or self-defeating expectations. He’s in college and is still like that, but he seems happy and well-adjusted. I, on the other hand, started many things (music lessons, languages, theater, photography), but didn’t stick with any of them long enough to get really good. Was I just projecting my own half-baked approach to learning on my son?

Rosie M

Anoosh, good question. I recall the suggestion from the book was that in elementary school race is more fluid (there was a funny study on black vs. white Santa) but in middle school kids self-segregate more. (I think–loant copy to my sister and never got it back. arr.) What perplexed me is that if you acknowledge that people look different while acknowledging that this doesn’t imply any specific behavior, why does Arthur (the intellectual African-American kid) stir more aggressive behavior than Power Rangers? (Sponge Bob is apparently terrible anyway.)


Of course, Sponge Bob was created by a marine biologist (right?) and Arthur is, well, a rat, so. . . ? Who can follow? Worry what Po Bronson has to say about Dora the Explorer?

Dr. Behrens

Question for Po Bronson. If modern parents’ instincts are wrong about raising their children, doesn’t this contradict evolution?


I am likewise having difficulty remembering the details. Read it when it came out, and since then I’ve had to take up brainspace with knowledge like, what is the particular combination of toddler syllables that mean “movie theatre” and is this the week my daughter’s favorite colors are yellow and green or pink and blue?

Rosie – Does Arthur stir more aggressive behavior than Power Rangers? I haven’t heard about that.

I do think my daughter gets a very fluid picture of race. In contrast to when I was growing up in the 1980s in NorCal, I’d say a quarter of her class, at least, is biracial or mixed race. But I can tell that she still considers black people (i.e., people with “dark brown skin”) to be the Other. It didn’t bother me so much when she was younger. I lived in West Africa, and babies would cry when they saw me! So I understand it on a basic level. But it’s not like she doesn’t know people who are black — she does. And, as she said, she doesn’t have a problem with people she knows, only black people that she doesn’t know. And it makes me tense because of all the racial history that I know but that she hasn’t learned yet. And I’m not ready to tell a 5-year-old about all the ugliness that is possible in human nature.

Dr. Behrens – I know you aren’t asking me, but I’m fascinated that you might think that evolution is the only factor at work. Again, having lived in West Africa and also the South Pacific, I’ve seen VERY different ways of parenting in the new millennium, and it makes me consider how much culture, economics, the nuclear family, even urban planning affect how we parent. I’m curious to know how you see evolution coming into play.


Well Anoosh, the flipside of that question is if black children would sooner trust other black people than white people? (My daughter is also mixed-race.) It sounds like you’re already having candid conversations with her. That’s good, as long as unlike Po Bronson (in example he gives where he sternly asked his daughter whether she had drawn on the table when he knew she had–causing her to lie!) you don’t express pre-disapproval. Although I think Nurture Shock also says lying is okay, as it shows social adeptness. I think I need a flow-chart. Perhaps new title of the book should be “The Kids Are All Right” and leave it at that! (Which probably goes back to Dan’s point!)


Ok, what do you think of this idea? Since we are living longer and retirement age is being pushed back, it may reach as high as 70 soon, there are no jobs for recent graduates
is there an argument to be made that childhood should be extended? If so, how long should it be? Twenty one, twenty-six?


LOL and pleeaaze! Nooo!!! Ouuut!!!! Sadly, today’s 40-hour-a-week unpaid “internships” seem to be supporting that. :(

Dr. Behrens

Another complicated evolutionary problem. Would “childhood” until 26 help ensure survival of the species? With increasingly old seniors, possible train wreck. (Who feeds these people?)

Samantha Dunn

I read NurtureShock when my son was a baby, and was convinced that I would now be armed with all the knowledge I’d need not to get sucked into the panic that surrounds parenting today, sure I would now not make the dreaded mistakes. My son is now four, and you can guess how that is working out…I will say though that I do remember the points about praise, and try to reward and comment on hard work and problem solving. I have so many questions for Po, but one of them is: You talk about the sibling effect, but what indeed does the science show about only children and how they fare? I notice at our preschool that my son has a lot of friends who are like him–the only child of parents in their 40s. What’s the benefit, or the challenge, these kids face?

Po Bronson

Hey, just got here, was out all morning reviewing soccer league paperwork.
There’s a lot of comments already, so let me identify a few clusters of conversation here and comment on them separately.

One is the question of just how much do you tell preschoolers about race? And, part 2 to that, is how to respond when a child has made a connection and expresses a bias based on race? (And what really drives that)

Another thread is Power Rangers vs Arthur, fantasy play vs physical aggression vs relational aggression, and how we should rank Spongebob and Dora, long as we’re at it.

A third thread is if childhood’s longer and longer phase, its very slow taper, is good or bad, economically and psychologically. An interesting speculation: maybe the fact it takes so long to grow up, these days, is actually a good thing rather than a thing to mock?

And then there’s the question of what parents’ instincts are — are they actual instincts, or are they distorted by the zeitgeist?


Or distorted by our recovering from our own childhoods (although perhaps even the notion of “recovery” is zeitgeist?).

Dr. Behrens

How much is human zeitgeist” (the culture) overtaking human evolution?

Nancy Liu

Mr. Bronson, don’t want to overload you as it’s not even 2, but I was fascinated in Nurture Shock on the study of American vs. Chinese mothers. After all their children took one test, all moms were lied to and told that their children’s results were below average. At the break, American moms talked to their kids about dinner, whereas Chinese moms said things like, “You didn’t concentrate when doing it,” and “Let’s look over your test.” On the second test, the Chinese kids’ scores jumped when compared to the American kids’ scores.

Are you saying. . . Tiger Mom was right? What did you think of Amy Chua’s book?

Po Bronson

Re: PARENTAL INSTINCTS … what we argue in the book is that our actual instinct is the impulse to nurture and protect children. But we express that instinct through strategies we’ve found work pretty well and notions of what’s most important for kids. And when you look at those, over recent history, it’s clear those are polluted by moralistic bias, fads, a certain thing in the science gets popularized, wishful thinking.

Evolution has honed the instinct to protect and nurture. Evolution hasn’t had a chance to test whether “time outs” help the species. Now that I think about, I kinda wonder — who was the first kid to get a “time out?” Who invented that phrase? We never looked that up. I also wonder sometimes, who was the last young kid who just got to wander the neighborhood, without telling mom where she or he had gone?

Back to instincts … because this relates to the point about extended childhood … our job as parents is not just to nurture and protect our children. It’s also to push their comfort zone, to destabilize them, to force them to grow up, to help them get over shyness, to get them to be willing to take risks in life. That’s the other half of our job … I wonder if we have an instinct for THAT?


That’s the plot of Finding Nemo, a film I still have trouble with. (I can’t resist saying I am a huge fan and I cannot believe you are actually online here!)


Children seem to *want* to be guided or coached, despite the evidence. They’re constantly pushing to discover where their boundaries are. How do you think our adult resistance to following advice, being told what to do or being reprimanded is indicated by our parents calling us on our grades or behavior as children? “Time outs” aren’t coaching. As a child I resisted punishment but responded well to strict role models.


Well I wonder if the phrase “Nurture Shock” tips your hand a little bit as to which generation you’re talking about (aka: modern, protective, educated, older parents). I don’t know if our parents or parents’ parents generation were “shocked” by the appearance of their children. (My grandmother was one of seven in a Catholic family–that was quite a string of shocks. Mostly for the siblings.)


As to why we don’t have the “instinct” to set our kids loose on their bikes. Two words “Megan’s Law.” It’s practically an app now. Being a mom today is terrifying.


Introversion/extroversion question. As an extrovert, I’m always trying to understand whether my introverted child is really happy by herself, or simply shrinking from the shocks of life. Is it fear or is it preference?

Po Bronson

Nancy Liu — was “Tiger Mom” right?

You’re referring to Florrie Ng’s study, which I love. The thing you didn’t mention was really important, especially in light of the citation earlier to Su Yeong Kim’s study on Tiger Moms, and kind of reconciles the difference. In Florrie Ng’s study of modern moms in Hong Kong, even though the moms urged their 5th grade children to look at the test with them (while the American moms asked what they wanted to dinner), the Chinese mothers were just as affectionate as the American moms. They touched their child’s face, smiled, hugged them, scratched their neck, and the like.

No science supports the notion that we parents should be removing affection from kids lives. Affection and love are so often confused with praise in our society, which is exactly the problem — too many of us express our love by showering praise. You can change how you praise and give feedback to your child without ever changing how you show them love and affection. As Carol Dweck often told me, “There’s no limit on how often you should tell your child you love them.”

Also, any study of parenting styles has to factor in and understand that, all around the world but especially in China, we are having fewer children. So we have more resources and time to spend on each child. And when we do that, the children mostly achieve higher levels of education, higher scores on tests, and the like.

Like everyone, Tiger Mom provoked a lot of feelings. I had been given a galley very early. I understood that a lot of it was meant as self-deprecating humor. But then there would be lines that would sound really intentional. I totally got what the book’s overall message was, and how that synced with NurtureShock in a way — both saying stop giving false praise, don’t be ashamed to have high expectations for your child.

But on a paragraph by paragraph basis, I had a lot of problems here and there. Most importantly was the premise. At the beginning of the book. It has to do with why little American kids at the supermarket and everywhere else throw fits, tantrums, try to manipulate their parents, etc. It’s absolutely true: modern kids raised by authoritative parents are poorly behaved when young. But for a reason! that’s because authoritative parents reason with their children, rather than demand obedience or punish bad behavior. They are always trying to push their child to see it in a more advanced way. And develop empathy and reasoning ability and judgment and understanding. The result is that they are not obedient. They explore. They manipulate. They test. That’s age 5 though. they’re young and not very good reasoners. But by the age of 9, that picks up speed and they are capable of thinking for themselves a lot of the time. And they are not necessarily obedient to authority. Which is sometimes really necessary!

If a student is being taught long division in math class, and the teacher doesn’t explain it very well, an obedient child just sits there and doesn’t disrespect the teacher by saying he’s not taught it well enough. But a child who has learned to stick up for himself, a child who expects other adults to reason back, has the courage to raise her hand and say “Hey, you didn’t explain that well enough! Teach it again!”


JanetF., will wait to hear what Po says but there is a very interesting introvert/extrovert section in Nurture Shock where I believe the flow of this is age (and perhaps developmentally?) dependent. Introverts should do just fine because they are. . . thinking. . . (is my recollection).


It’s not clear what’s changed since we rode loose on our bikes and walked 20min alone to elementary school as kids. Is our fear based in reality or the evening news?

Po Bronson

Janet — Re; Introversion vs Shyness

Shyness research is really interesting. To be shy means you have an urge to join in, but you swallow that urge, you don’t let anybody see it, you hang back. This is quite different than being socially aversive, in which case you truly do not want to join in at all. Only you can tell which your child is. Or researchers, they can see it in their brains, since that urge is manifested in a distinct neural network. Kids who are shy will say they don’t want to do something, and they’ll swear it won’t work out, but if they can just join in, then they have a great time.

Introversion is kinda different. Healthy adaptation means a child can enjoy both — both time in a good social situation, and enjoy time alone. If a child can enjoy only one or the other, they need scaffolding to help them be able to do both. The best is when a child knows and recognizes or anticipates well, does he need some time to be alone, will he enjoy that time if he goes with friends to do that thing, etc.


Re: Do we have instincts to let our kids take risks in life?

Kids will always take risks. At this particular historical/cultural moment in the U.S., there’s usually someone supervising the kids to discourage them from taking them.

When I lived in Senegal, I noticed that the kids generally roamed around in big packs, with older siblings and younger siblings mixed together. The older siblings made sure that the younger ones didn’t do anything too stupid. In the capital, it’s too populated for the kids to ever be entirely away from adults, but adults have a pretty high threshold for intervention. In rural areas, kids wander off into the fields and just hang out with each other.

(I know, basically I’m talking about free-range parenting.)

As parents, we’re not supposed to have eyes on our kids all the time. I know that my personal parental burnout has to do with having to be EVERYTHING to my kids, rather than having aunties and uncles, grandparents, cousins, and neighbors to diffuse their energy over several individuals. I don’t know if that’s instinct, exactly.


Po, one thing I’m really grateful for is that you did NOT write a book (like Tiger Moms) putting all the blame on lazy or lax mothers. You wrote a book about parenting that used yourself (a dad) as a foil. I did appreciate SOME of the Tiger Mom book but (and I know it has been said so I don’t want to labor) it seemed a bit mean and showcased her children in an uncomfortable way (that your book did not).


“It’s absolutely true: modern kids raised by authoritative parents are poorly behaved when young. But for a reason! that’s because authoritative parents reason with their children, rather than demand obedience or punish bad behavior. They are always trying to push their child to see it in a more advanced way. And develop empathy and reasoning ability and judgment and understanding. The result is that they are not obedient. They explore. They manipulate. They test. ”

THANK YOU for this. Exactly.

Re: introversion. I’m finding the term “ambivert” very useful. I applies well to my daughter, who is intensely “shy” until she is comfortable in a situation — and then you can’t shut her up.

Sandra Tsing Loh

Holy cow! Welcome, Po! We have chained you to your desk already, and so appreciate that you went from soccer league paperwork right to us! I’m going to drop a couple of questions in this mix one at a time. Fascinating discussion going on here already.

1) In Nurture Shock, there is some startling science about how white children process race, how Progressive Dads fail, how (Christian) spanking is not always bad, how teaching morality can backfire, how bullies are socially useful. It’s fascinating stuff, potentially controversial to parties left and right. What surprised you most in the U.S. response to Nurture Shock? (I wonder what the Berkeley Parents Network thought–cue smiley emoticon?)

Ganesha Mamma

The book is great in the synthesis of studies, programs and education, and I thank you for doing my parental homework! Since you speak to the good/bad about liars and teen rebellion, can you speak to how ethics can be taught in schools where religion (I use this word in the sense of how effective God’s role is in teaching children life lessons and ‘rules’ used to be very effective) are absent — neee — taboo? To take your analysis of diversity a step further, Instead of religious diversity in schools, we have a religious wasteland in schools. No one talks about ANY spirituality and ethics consists of ‘No Bullying Policies”. Meanwhile there is a compulsion to throw all ethnicities together expect it to work… How can you create diversity without a diverse understanding of ethics?


Nudist. . . ! Yes! The evening news! All the headlines: “What Household Items Can Kill You?” Right after the break.

Po Bronson

Talking about Race with Preschoolers (AranaMama et al) –

At the preschool age, it’s important not to pretend that skin tone and hair type differences don’t exist.

When I look back, we would read those Dorling Kindersley board books to our son … “look at the RED fire truck, look at the YELLOW duck, look at the BLUE ball …. and there were little toddlers in the photo arrays, toddlers with skin pinkish to brownish, the whole spectrum, as obvious as day … and we would NEVER mention the color of the baby’s face.

At the preschool age, it’s important to say very clearly, morally, “We like people of every skin color,” and “We don’t choose friends on their skin color any more than we would for their hair color or shirt color.”

When my son was 2, I had no trouble saying to him, “Girls can grow up to be doctors and racedrivers and …” But I was silent about race.

If you hear a child making a wrong connection, and being honest that they’ve decided, “I don’t like people with ___ skin,” it’s important not to hush them. Hushing them just deepens the taboo that this is something we don’t talk about. As AranaMama noted, one possibility is that the child is getting a message from society, picked it up. But even more than that is a driving developmental force called Essentialism. Essentialism is the tendency to like people who share similarities and to assume, or overgeneralize, that people who look similar to you also share similar preferences. So if a child likes red shirts, and sees another child with a red shirt, will be prone to thinking that child likes pizza and Dora, too. Children pick friends often because of really basic similarities. If shown photos of kids, they’ll prefer the kids in the photos who have the same hair color as them, or same clothes color, or skin color. Even if they don’t know anything about that kid.

Also, kids at that age make categorization mistakes, overgeneralizing. If they see one instance, they are prone to making it a generality.

That’s why it’s so important to talk openly and plainly about race.

Sandra Tsing Loh

Nudist, Deee626, in the service of the actual radio show which we sometimes forget we are doing because we are SO EXCITED to have Po Bronson live,
top word reflected in U.S. literature since the 1970s?


Wu Ji

Two comments:
1. Eastern and indigenous cultures emphasize the importance of physical contact between parents and infants 0-6 months. Fundamental neural development is positively affected by this, no? This seems more critical than almost any other factor relative to subsequent cognitive development.

2. Per the comment by Nudist, the childhood experience of many contemporary parents — including my own — was informed by gangs of unsupervised kids regimented by age and organized within their own, naturally engendered social intelligence. There really were no adults involved in our daily activities at all, which speaks to the points you make in your Conclusion, relative to the inherent differences between the social sensibilities and instincts of adults and children respectively. Why has our generation allowed such a stark disparity of experience between us and our children?

Po Bronson

Ganesha Mama —

What we have in schools, instead of religion, is socioemotional training. My 8 year old daughter calls it “Civility Class.” Well, her school does. She actually takes it very seriously. And while I think a lot of false promises are made about socioemotional training (that it improves grades, that it improves IQ), which are bogus, it does help the social fabric of school and does help kids deal with some stressful situations a little better.

So, it’s not religion, but religion is both doctrine and teaching morality and teaching to be aware of how others are feeling. Some religion, like the Ten Commandments, are top down, doctrine, “It’s the Rules,” “Because I said so.” Other parts of religion are bottom up.

And so it is with socioemotional training. Some of it is top down “You just don’t say that, you’re not allowed to say that” and some of it is bottom up, “Think how you would feel if someone said that to you.”

Is this getting the job done in school where there is no religion taught? I don’t know. Fair question. But is behavior and social interaction better in school where religion is taught than in schools where religion is not taught? Ahh, great question. and it can’t completely be answered, because schools that teach religion are also, commonly, more authoritative, stricter, with harsher punishments. So you get misbehavior but different kinds of misbehavior.


Hi Po,
This is such a fascinating discussion, and I’ve been half-in/half-out because I am simultaneously dealing with an email from my teenage daughter’s French teacher. I raised my kids to think for themselves and act on their conscience, but today her conscience told her to walk out of class without permission. We are considering homeschooling her next year because she thinks traditional education is a shuck. I noticed you have some interesting thoughts about the strange, artificial environment in which we educate our kids. What do you think about the tension between encouraging our kids to think for themselves while also having the expectation that they toe the line in institutional environments? Is it too mixed a message? I hope this question is not too off-topic. Get to it when and if you can, I’ll be watching the board here. Thanks!

Ganesha Mamma

Dear Mr. Bronson,
I absolutely laughed in collusion at your race chapter! I grew up in white suburban middle class-land, and I often attribute to living in the diverse big city to the fact that all the bullys were blonde, and all the brainiacs were blonde…all the stoners were blond. And the black guy was a basketball star, and the muslim guy was a prince!

Kriquette Bhat

If one is familiar with and subscribes to the concept of reincarnation, one knows that we each choose our parents, according to our respective karma, in order to advance — however slowly — each party’s advancement to self-realization.
How does the influence of spiritual practice and teaching affect childhood development?
Other than your reference to a parochial school control group in the gratitude study, I see no assessment of this.

Po Bronson

Sandra — Re: Berkeley Parents Network reaction, US reaction to NurtureShock …

There were indeed people who were upset by NurtureShock, and the most common reaction there was … plagiarism! They would post a blog entry that they didn’t like the book, then a month later post an article taking pieces of the science from the book to make their point …

I was also surprised (and pissed) to be accused of being too “won over” by the researchers, of being too faithful of science, it was kind of a rhetorical argument but it was very Creationist in its argument style: kids are too mysterious to ever be explained by mere science, therefore science cannot be helpful or accurate. We didn’t cover all the science of kids … we covered the specific topics where we thought the science was terrific. In plenty of other dimensions of kids lives, the science hasn’t gotten it figured out yet at all.

Sandra Tsing Loh

Re: religion, this reminds me of the fascinating Nurture Shock section on spanking. One-third of Texas Conservative Protestants spanked their kids three times a week or more but because it was seen as “normal” as was recommended by James Dobson’s Focus on the Family it had no adverse affects. Whoa. In the meantime, Go, Po, this is awesome.

Sandra Tsing Loh

To change it up a minute, Po:

2) In your 1999 bestseller, for Silicon Valley’s central icon you chose not:
Sub-35 Billionaire Yahoo! co-founder David Filo who slept under his desk, or
“Mae West” (San Jose hub of Internet that disappointingly looked like three small microwaves)
but THE NUDIST ON THE LATE SHIFT (my pal David Coons, who is with us today!) The Nudist! (Talking about role models as a child in an earlier Comment, I love it.)

Can you tell our audience why you chose THE NUDIST and if you think this icon still works for Silicon Valley today? (Is the central icon Yahoo! chief Marissa Meyer staring at an empty parking lot?)

Also, David, what was it like being the star of a Po Bronson book? Do you think Silicon Valley culture has changed since then? Have you?

Tiger(ish) Mom

I started the book online when I heard you were doing this from our school facebook page. Communities actually aren’t all gossip and it seems that science is also found! Good for the Loh Down and thank you for taking questions.

It seems that every time I get my backpack in a twist over childrearing, some benevolent teach, psychologist, and even scientist (you in your book), are pretty forgiving to the experimental, intentional parent. It seems that if we consciously attend to our little petri dishes, they will come out ok. But if we take a singular vision or philosophy (religion, no spanking, no sugar), that’s what gets us into trouble? I mean, from reading this, I’m considering sending my kid to the store alone (with a cell phone). Does all this innovation just return us to the adage MODERATION IS THE KEY?

Po Bronson

I haven’t mentioned yet Power Rangers vs Arthur.

So, to be clear … shows like Arthur do help kids develop language ability, kids learn a lot of language from shows, though they learn even more when they can see human faces, because they basically lip-read too, they absorb more when they can see the face saying the words. Not sure what that says about power rangers, where the rangers have no faces at all.

Power Rangers for the most part is fantasy, Kids do learn to emulate it, but kids are really quite good at making the contextual distinction. They might pretend kick when playing Power Rangers with friends, or by themselves, but they don’t kick at other kids when not playing. In fact many kids are drawn to the expression of power and the notion of dual identity because they are in fact very shy, and not only would never kick someone, they might also rarely even speak up, let alone say anything mean.

Relational aggression is what kids learn from shows like Arthur, because of its plots. SpongeBob does this too. Characters are always hurting each others’ feelings in the shows, and they do repair by the end of the show, but kids basically soak up “oh, that’s how to hurt someone’s feelings when I need to.” Similar to the study of Laurie Kramer’s we mention in the book, where parents had siblings read books about sibling characters and watch movies with sibling storylines … and it didn’t help improve behavior, it drastically made the siblings so relationally aggressive to each other that Laurie had to stop the study. In the books and movies, siblings were learning new techniques to undermine their brother and sister that they’d never thought of before.

Dora, not so much relational aggression in that show too.

Not that I kept my kids from these shows …
Or that these shows are a danger ….
we were just drawing larger points to set up the book ….

Disruptor 59

Texas conservatives spank their wives too!

Sandra Tsing Loh

Re: critiquing and then plagiarism, I can’t resist noting that that is exactly how scientists seem to react to the New York Times. They are always outraged that the NYT gets the science wrong, absurdly flattered when they are mentioned, and then they quote what they read in the NYT forever on as gospel.

Po Bronson

Sandra –

Re: Silicon Valley and David (the Nudist) as an icon …

I probably would have sold 10X the books if I hadn’t chosen The Nudist as an icon … to me, working late at night, in the raw, devoted, pure … helped counteract the hype that the country had attached to that industry at that time. I wanted to say adamantly that behind all the money and all the hype and all the dotcom hysteria … there was something pure about it. the mental challenge.


Nurture Shock really dissected those Baby Einstein “educational” videos. Any take on learning on IPADS vs. books or learning online (do you think these are boondoggles)?

Sandra Tsing Loh

But that’s why it was brilliant. As opposed to “Happy Billionaire Bachelors!”


Although re: Dora, there was a lot of “Swiper, no swiping!” Relational aggression? Will ponder. . .

Disruptor 59

When my daughter was 6 months old, I made her listen to James Brown recordings an hour at a time, making her tap the back beat with her hand.
At 20, she has impeccable rhythm and is a great dancer, though I am paying for her therapy twice a week…

Po bronson

Sandra –

Re: Silicon Valley and David (the Nudist) as an icon …

The question everyone asks me now is, “How is the tech industry/silicon valley different than it was when I chronicled it (1996-2000)?”

The answer is: You can only lose your virginity once.

So, it’s really not different. Differences are minor. Less IPOs, buyouts are more common, but only a few companies get bought, but they get bought for more money. Startups are not more on a shoestring today, the salaries are high, the money is flowing, ten startups are all doing the same thing …

But what’s different is it’s all happened before. That it’s not the first time. It’s less capital M Momentous, less import. There are still false promises made … but it’s just doesn’t feel like the world is changing.

Sandra Tsing Loh

Po, your respect for the purity of mental challenge is clear. From investment banking to novels and journalism to, finally, science. Yes. And so:

(My second to last official question). . .

3) In NS, you bemoan how science discoveries are treated in the media: “In the immediacy of today’s 24-7 news cycle. . . it feels as if no scientific breakthrough escapes notice. But these scientific findings are used like B-list celebrities—they’re filler. . . Each one gets its ten minutes of fame. . . it’s impossible to know which findings really merit our attention.”

How do you think we remedy this? (I ask this in light of “breaking news” today that Justin Bieber is going to space.)


Does it seem unreasonable to suggest that kids can be raised to be well-behaved as young children and still grow up to have empathy, understanding, and reasoning? Or do you sacrifice the kind of out-of-the-box creativity Americans are known for, in the process?

Sandra Tsing Loh

Ah. . . So now Silicon Valley is middle-aged, like some of us (myself! myself!). What sector of America do you find has the same freshness today (if any)?

Po Bronson

Re: Learning online, IPads, edutainment games —

I think most of these are great. And can be helpful supplementation.

Baby Einstein was its own strange animal, visual eye candy, disembodied voices speaking in every language …
A lot of science there as to why that couldn’t work, and in fact could hurt.
Learning language early in life engages very different mechanisms. Once you can already speak, then you can learn language from the Tv, for sure.

And learning math, or strategy, or reasoning ability, on ipads, that’s all fine.

My kids don’t like it much though. I might have the only kids who are old school, they like TV more than videogames. My son watches MLB channel and memorizes the baseball stats from 1985 …


Re: TV shows – Right, I remember that part now. I do like the variety of shows available now where the characters are very nice to each other and any tension is resolved peacefully. I’m thinking of Wonder Pets!, Bob the Builder, Kipper the Dog, and Caillou.

Po, have any developers of children’s shows been in touch with you or said that the studies influenced them? I’d be curious to know if there has been an effect, although I’m sure it’s too early to tell.

I’m also wondering if anyone has studied whether Caillou is the key to Canadians being generally nice, decent people. :)

I’d like to second K-la_123′s question about more interactive technology and learning. I feel that parents can’t possibly keep up with technology and set appropriate limits!

I’d like to ask one more question, if I may:

In the conclusion, you unpack the Fallacy of Similar Effect. Since the book’s publication, have you noticed other examples of this fallacy in practice?


Re: Silicon Valley and Nudism

To Sandra’s question of what it felt like.. kind of a double whammy of exposure and vindication. As much as clothing is require in the halls of corporate America, it’s even more required to some extent today. Po’s observation of the purity is on point, that even today, my job is about doing this one thing and doing it well, without distraction. Note that today there are more group clothing optional events than ever, re: this weekend’s World Naked Bike ride.

Rachel Norris

Po, are you familiar with Wendy Mogel’s Blessing of a Skinned Knee? (Responsibly parenting affluent children based on the tenets of Judaism?)

Po Bronson

DINK Gal –

yes, there IS a short term tradeoff, and it is expecting too much to ask a very young child to behave like a polite adult (without simply demanding obedience). their neural systems of attention and regulation are not developed, they cannot cognitively override emotional impulse, it takes time, it takes development.

In our chapter on young kids lying, we mention Victoria Talwar’s study in Africa of kids at a very strict traditional authoritarian school vs kids at a modern school … at the strict school, they’d get their hands caned if they broke a pencil … those kids could absolutely control their behavior, and they’d gotten to be super good liars, straightfaced, impossible to read … but at quite the price. They did not trust adults to be interested in them, did not trust adults to listen.

Wendy Mogel

Just stopping by to say hello and thanks to Sandra for hosting and Po for his sanity building contribution to our culture of good-intentioned but nervous parenting. Eager to read all the comments.

Rachel Norris

Oh my God–there she is. . . Wendy Mogel! This is like The Twilight Zone (a really good one)!

Po Bronson

A global point, re: NurtureShock …

Over time, the thing that stood out to me was how many of our parenting behaviors were designed to manipulate a child, in their own best interest, but it was still manipulative. A lot of parenting strategies involved trying to get a kid to believe something … honesty be damned. And that’s the thing … kids won’t even listen to us, not really, if they can tell we’re not being honest. There’s total honesty and there’s appropriate honesty, I’m talking the latter here …

Po Bronson

Re: Wendy Mogul

“I have Marshall McLuhan right here …”

I swear I didn’t make that happen, how cool. Hi Wendy.

Tad Twee

The memorization of baseball stats has historically been a hallmark of American boyhood development, generationally.
However, I think we can now also locate this behavior — apparently as we can locate most behavior — somewhere “on the spectrum.”
My nephew is also obsessed with stats, as was his father. As a right-brain dominant, I was more into the logos and uniforms…

Right brain vs. Left brain?

Sandra Tsing Loh

Po, my final question: Nurture Shock gives us so much amazing science to apply to our thinking learning and creativity. Ours is a science show, and I have my own theory that the bad old ways of teaching math and science include methods/situations that are: authoritative, hierarchical, zero sum, sudden death, competitive, frightening.

So we’ve invented a Question of the Day game (that just completed a school contest last month where kids played these every day). These involve obscure science facts one might not know, but with plausible alternate answers (“distractors”!). The game is to puzzle it out based on what you know, and there is no penalty for being wrong.

So Po Bronson, will you answer our Question of the Day today (answer will be out tomorrow so there’s no humiliation factor!).

Which of the following is NOT a real invention?

A chocolate-powered fan
A soft cheese that exudes fertility pheremones
A battery that runs on pee


And nudism is about risk, about thinking out of the box, about pushing boundaries. Nudists may have few nudist friends for much the same reasons children in multiracial schools might be less likely to have cross-racial friendships. It’s not the obvious conclusion.


Hey Wendy! I am posing here as “Dustynethers” but really, its me, Erika Schickel. Still hoping for some discussion of traditional vs. nontraditional schooling with teens. I am in a fix with my kid! All this preschool TV discussion, while fascinating, is a million years ago for me.
Rebellion: good or bad?


I just hate to think of “relational aggression” between nudists. (Oh my God–I’m losing it–I have been sitting at this computer for three hours!) Will sign off now, loved it.

Po Bronson

Sandra —

That every tidbit of science gets its ten minutes of fame … and how to remedy it.

I don’t know … it’s a marketplace of ideas … a non-regulated marketplace … and like financial markets, there seem constantly to be distortions and fads and rollercoaster rides up and down …

Just don’t believe that the kids who ate the marshmallow in under a minute scored 200 points lower on their SATs … there were only 5 kids who ate the marshmallow that fast, they had ADHD … it was a result that was never replicated …

Sandra Tsing Loh

So true re: every unrepeatable study getting its 10 minutes of fame. . . We see that all the time–a 2007 study that was going to yield results in 2009. (Rule of thumb: If a breakthrough is expected in three years, you’ll have to wait at least eight.)

Po Bronson

Question of the Day:

Well, they’ve made a chocolate powered car, I think they can make a fan, they convert the chocolate into hydrogen fuel, but then, that makes sense for a car, why would they bother just to power a fan? Hmmm

A pee battery is I suppose like a saltwater battery, saltwater carries electrical charge, so that sounds real.

Cheese … hmmm … I know deodorant can kill pheromones, in those studies where guys sweat up a t shirt for two days they can’t eat garlic or cheese or chiles or use deodorant … I read those studies …

the cheese one sounds the most impossible. But because the sweaty tshirt studies prohibit cheese, and because why would you convert chocolate to hydrogen power just to make a fan to cool off … I’m going with CHOCOLATE POWERED FAN.

I am probably so wrong.

Po Bronson

That Nudists might not be likely to have Nudist friends …

really interesting … takes some of the risk out of it if just hang with other Nudists.

We all struggle with mutual desires.
We all desire to belong.
We all desire not to be controlled by others.

This research runs on a scale of 1-7, and almost everyone is between 3.5 and 5.5, meaning they are only a little shaded more to one side or the other, but even a slightly stronger need to not be controlled by others leads to really interesting behaviors.

Sandra Tsing Loh

You are so dear to have done our Question of the Day, and your reasoning aloud will encourage and heal many! (For the record, our winning school Aldama also went this morning with Chocolate Powered Fan.) (Answer tomorrow–that is our rule. Nurture Shock: Play plus rules.)
You are the best, we have keep you way beyond the call of duty.
Please come back any time and, most importantly, we hope this morning’s soccer league paperwork works out all right.
Go Po (and your partner Ashley Merryman, co-author of your guys’ SUBSEQUENT greatt book, Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing)!
Over and out (and back to our day jobs, being moms and dads. . . )
All best!


Just wanted to say THANK YOU to Po for fielding such a varied battery of questions, and THANK YOU to Sandra Tsing Loh for hosting! Fascinating conversation!


Thank you, Po!


The best!

Po Bronson

Tad Twee —

Re: baseball stats and “the spectrum”

Well, it’s a paracosm, and entire world represented in numbers, kids/dreamers love to spend time inside alternate universes … kids on the spectrum would be drawn to that … but also all kids, highly creative adults all had paracosms in their childhood …

Sandra Tsing Loh

PS: As someone whose father was know as The Naked Handstand Man, I couldn’t be more delighted with the bonus nudist analysis. . .

Po Bronson

Thanks everyone! I have to go back to soccer league paperwork, it’s registration time of year for us in SF.

Your questions were awesome and comments insightful, you probably could have done this without me.

thanks Sandra!

Oh, next week, my co-author Ashley will be here, she’s in NY at a sports science conference …

Sandra Tsing Loh

And we rarely make it through without it all somehow coming back to baseball! Thank you!


Thank you Sandra and Po for leading a wise discussion on an excellent book!

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