“Parenting techniques won’t save you.” Child psychologist Rob Evans delivered this message to the audience here at Oak Meadow last Wednesday evening during our spring Speaker Series event. His talk, Raising Healthy Children in Challenging Times, was riveting, funny, emotional, and validating. He challenged us to be the best of who we are while also reminding us that parenting is messy business and that the goal is not to be perfect, but rather to be consistent.
What do children need to turn out well? (Mr. Evans defined “turning out well” as being a good citizen, good partner, successful worker, etc.) Mr. Evans highlighted the following: 1) nurture, 2) structure, and 3) latitude. He described nurture as something all babies need to survive, and something we never outgrow. However, as we get older we need “just enough” nurture to keep us healthy. Structure, he pointed out, is really about clarity. Different structures can work as long as the structure is predictable and clear. Finally, Mr. Evans explained that latitude is the freedom to learn from experience and this should increase as the child gets older. Most children, Mr. Evans reminded us, are naturally resilient and will do well in life as long as they are given nurture, structure, and latitude.
Mr. Evans also debunked the “quality time” myth, stating that as a parenting strategy it simply does not work. Parents cannot force time with a child to be of high quality. Children need to push limits and if a clear structure exists for them they will know when they’ve pushed too far. This, Mr. Evans said, is good for children.
Mr. Evan’s left us with the clear message that parents are not helpless and that we need to see raising children from a simpler perspective. He encouraged us to put down the parenting books because they contain little reliable science and because he believes almost any way of raising a child has both strengths and weaknesses. Parenting books often try to break parenting down into discrete units, which Mr. Evans believes is impossible. He cautioned us not to try to integrate into our parenting something that is fundamentally at odds with who we are.
Mr. Evans clearly has faith in the resilience of children and the goodness of parents. He also acknowledges that the rapid rate of change and the multitude of choices that exist today make parenting particularly challenging. To me, his message was inspiring, simple, and important. The Speaker Series event was a big success and Mr. Evan’s talk has given me much to think about.