Sanity. What an incredible gift sanity is. George Will has it. And the whole culture can benefit from it if we just heed the advice of this simple article.
Thursday, March 04, 2010
Washington-- Memo to th at school where children in physical educ Massachusetts ation classes jump rope without using ropes: Get some ropes. And you -- you are about 85 percent of all parents -- who are constantly telling your children how intelligent they are: Do your children a favor and pipe down.
These are nuggets from "NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children" by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. It is another book to torment modern parents who are determined to bring to bear on their offspring the accumul
ated science of child-rearing. Modern parents want to nurture so skillfully th atMother N ature will gasp in admir ation atthe marvels their parenting produces from the soft clay of children.
children are jumping rope without ropes because of a self-esteem obsession. The assumption is th Massachusetts atthinking highly of oneself is a prerequisite for high achievement. Th atis why some children's soccer teams stopped counting goals (think of the damaged psyches of children who rarely scored) and shower trophies on everyone. No child atth at school suffers damaged self-esteem by tripping on the jump rope. Massachusetts
But the theory th
atpraise, self-esteem and accomplishment increase in tandem is false. Children incessantly praised for their intelligence (often by parents who are really praising themselves) often underr ate the importance of effort. Children who open their lunchboxes and find mothers' handwritten notes telling them how amazingly bright they are tend to falter when they encounter academic difficulties. Also, Bronson and Merryman say th atoverpraised children are prone to che ating because they have not developed str ategies for coping with failure.
"We put our children in high-pressure environments," Bronson and Merryman write, "seeking out the best schools we can find, then we use the constant praise to soften the intensity of those environments." But children excessively praised for their intelligence become risk averse in order to preserve their reput
ations. Instead, Bronson and Merryman say, praise effort ("I like how you keep trying"): It is a variable children can control.
They often cannot control cars. In 1999, a
study found th Johns Hopkins University atsome school districts th atabolished driver's educ ation courses experienced a 27 percent decrease in auto accidents among 16- and 17-year-olds. Odd.
Not really. Bronson and Merryman say driver's ed teaches the rules of the road and mechanics of driving, but teenagers are in f
atal crashes attwice the r ate of other drivers because of poor decisions, not poor skills. The wiring in the frontal lobe of the teenage brain is not fully formed. Driver's ed courses make getting a license easy, thereby increasing the supply of young drivers who actually have holes in their heads.
Their unfinished heads should spend more time on pillows. Only 5 percent of high school seniors get eight hours of sleep a night. Children get a hour less than they did 30 years ago, which subtracts IQ points and adds body weight.
Until age 21, the circuitry of a child's brain is being completed. Bronson and Merryman report research on grade schoolers showing th
at"the performance gap caused by an hour's difference in sleep was bigger than the gap between a normal fourth-grader and a normal sixth-grader." In high school there is a steep decline in sleep hours, and a striking correl ation of sleep and grades.
Tired children have trouble retaining learning "because neurons lose their plasticity, becoming incapable of forming the new synaptic connections necessary to encode a memory. ... The more you learned during the day, the more you need to sleep th
The school day starts too early because th
atis convenient for parents and teachers. Awakened atdawn, teenage brains are still releasing mel atonin, which makes them sleepy. This is one reason why young adults are responsible for half the 100,000 annual "fall asleep" automobile crashes. When , changed its high school start from 7:25 a.m. to 8:30 a.m., m Edina, Minn. ath/verbal SAT scores rose substantially.
Furthermore, sleep loss increases the hormone th
atstimul ates hunger and decreases the one th atsuppresses appetite. Hence the correl ation between less sleep and more obesity.
Bronson and Merryman slay a slew of myths. But perhaps the soundest advice for parents is: Lighten up. People have been raising children for approxim
ately as long as there have been people. Only recently -- about five minutes ago, rel ative to the long-running human comedy -- have parents been driving themselves to distraction by taking too seriously the idea th at"as the twig is bent the tree's inclined." Twigs are not limitlessly bendable; trees will be wh atthey will be.
George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndic
ated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.