How Children Succeed Review

I finished How Children succeed by Paul Tough. Going into it I wanted some concrete answers on what do parents need to give children (resources both financially, emotionally and academically) to lead children to success. Particularly when said children are facing a lot of adversity from the get go. And although I did not get a hard line in the sand, or road map of how to raise successful children I’m glad I read it because it reinforced some beliefs I had and introduced some ideas on what I can do when I can’t control every outcome.

The book brings up the work of a pediatrician, Dr. Nadine Burke Harris. She worked in San Francisco in an area that desperately needed adequate medical services. She noticed she saw some patients more than others and wanted to find solutions. In her work she had found the results of the ACES study done on over 17,000 patients of Kaiser HMO. The ACES Study gave a numerical value to the number of traumatic childhood experiences a patient experienced. For every trauma ranging from physical and sexual abuse, physical and emotional neglect, household dysfunction (divorced or separated parents, incarcerated family members, mentally ill or addicted members) the patient would receive one point on their ACES card. The study found that adults who had experienced more traumas in childhood (thus having a higher ACE score) had a positive correlation with higher instances of drug abuse, attempt at suicide, participating in risky sexual behavior, depression obesity higher risk for cancer, heart disease, liver disease, and suffering from chronic bronchitis. The study found that not only were victims of trauma more likely to suffer from chronic disease if they abused drugs but even victims who didn’t smoke, drink or use other drugs had a higher probability of chronic disease than those with lower ACE scores. Dr. Harris began to question her patients about their childhood experiences and started finding that not only were high ACES affected in health but in school as well. To wrap up stress and the way the brain reacts to stress is the main culprit behind much of the health implications high ACES have.
That notion in itself is rather depressing but it brings me to my next finding and beacon of hope. If the way our body reacts to stress effects our health and ability to do well in school (specifically in children with traumatic experiences) than learning to manage that stress is our best tool for combating the effect. How do we teach children to manage stress? Well with a lot of love and nurturing to help them learn to self-sooth and to handle stress in a healthy manner. And it’s not just a theory but backed by science (which for time purposes I’ll save you from the details, but if you want to get the details I highly recommend reading the book)
Another big take away that I already knew to some extent is the malleability of intelligence. Scientists argue that IQ is genetic and that some people will innately be smarter than others, however studies around the growth mindset challenges this belief because in studies where students believe intelligence is malleable they end up performing better on tests that measure IQ. Perhaps the tests aren’t measuring IQ very well if students are having different results but it makes the case that to improve a students grades you want them to believe that they can achieve the highest levels of academic success through hard work and applying themselves. And you do this by being your kids biggest cheerleader.
And probably the final take away that I had was that I can’t and shouldn’t try to protect my son from every obstacle and adversity. He will have to learn to fail, he will have to learn to pick himself up, and he will have to learn that things worth achieving are not handed out. Especially because he is a Latino male raised by a single mom. I cannot change that part of his identity and as long as I support, love him and challenge him to become a responsible man then I have to put trust in God that everything else will fall into place.
Overall I think the book was very well thought out and challenged me about some of the ways I’ve looked at parenting. If you’re a parent or a person whose profession is dedicated to serving youth I would highly recommend the book. Just don’t go into it looking for hard answers like I did, accept that you may have more questions than you had when you started but it will at the very least challenge the way you look at parenting, or schooling system, and the civil responsibility each of us has to this countries youth.
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