By Tim Middleton
An enthusiastic and energetic young sportsman was very keen to discover the secret that would bring him sporting success and so he asked a well-known coach what was the key ingredient he needed in order to achieve success. The coach pondered for a while, then simply declared: “Choose your parents wisely!” It is a wonderful response and maybe many youngsters would wish they could do that, but is there any truth in it or any chance of it?
Behind the coach’s reasoning is the theory that genes play a huge part in a person’s ability; children born to sporting parents are likely to have considerable sporting ability themselves, though the parents’ love of and interest in sport may be as much a determining factor while the child grows up. Children born to academic parents, it is contended similarly, have more chance of being academic themselves. The problem is that such an argument is not consistent as many children do well academically without having academic parents and do well in sport without sporting parents (though it might be argued that the parents may well have had the ability, but never had the opportunity).
Leaving that debate aside for a while, it is an interesting thought to ask what we would look for in a parent if we could choose our parents. Many children would probably choose their parents to be rich; many would probably ask for young or fun-loving parents. Then again, some would no doubt wish for parents who are there for them when they need them; others would simply wish their parents to love them unconditionally. All would probably just want their parents to be consistent, consistent in each situation and with other parents, without ever comparing their child to others.
While we may enjoy considering such dreams, the point that we wish to emphasise here from the coach’s statement, “Choose your parents wisely”, is the word “parents”; he does not say we should choose our teachers or our coach wisely, but our parents. That again refers to the genetic connection, but it also serves to underline a crucial, fundamental point: Parents play the most important role in a child’s development. Let us emphasise that appropriately — parents do, the school does not. The school may have the child there for long periods, but the parents play the most important role.
Parents need to be aware too that as the child grows up in years (not necessarily in maturity), so the parents’ influence wanes somewhat. By teenage years, a parent probably only comes in at number five, in terms of people of influence in a child’s life, behind, firstly, celebrities, then the child’s friends followed by that friend’s parents and then their teachers. This again reinforces the fact that parents need to play their biggest role in the first five years of the child’s life, before others get hold of them.
Parents play the biggest role because they raise the child in their home; home is home, not a work place, not an enemy territory, but home, a place of comfort, reassurance, stability, consistency, where the child can relax, eat, play, rest. It should be a positive environment which affords a wonderful opportunity for development to occur naturally, easily, personally and significantly.
Furthermore, parents do not simply have the biggest role, but they also have the greatest responsibility in terms of their child’s development. The big decisions that will determine the child’s development will be made by the parents, not by teachers. Parents will choose where they will live as a family, which may well also have a significant part in choosing to what school they will send their child. The parents’ decisions about how they spend their money will have an effect on the child’s development (and on the choice of school again). However, their greatest responsibility is to set the right example to their child, by what they say, do, wear, watch and by where they go.
The reality is a child cannot choose his parents. If a child is going to be successful, he does not need to choose his parents wisely, but in truth it is the parents who must choose wisely. However, a child must choose to make the most of what his parents have chosen to give him (in terms of genes, resources and opportunities). Parents will choose what sort of parents they are, and for the child to be successful, the parents must respect their crucial role and accept their critical responsibility to develop their child.
It is their child; the child does not belong to the school. So here is a testing, parting thought: If they could, would our children actually have chosen us as their parents?
Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools [ATS]. The views expressed in this article, however, are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the ATS.