Michael Thompson and Rob Evans

Michael Thompson and Rob Evans, two notable authors and school consultants, recently addressed parents at Punahou about how best to prepare students for a successful and meaningful future. Thompson is the author and co-author of several books, including the New York Times bestseller, “Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys.” Evans is a child and family therapist who has authored three books and consulted with schools throughout the world.

The topic of their Feb. 19 talk at Punahou – Rigor, Emotional Intelligence, and The Real Roots of Success – correlated with the School’s ongoing effort to teach students such things as communication, collaboration, creativity and flexibility, which are becoming increasingly important skills for college and the workplace.

While at Punahou, Thompson and Evans recorded a podcast with President Mike Latham ’86, discussing the critical skills students need for tomorrow’s workplace, and how parents can help their children acquire them.

Listen now!

Rob Evans (left) and Michael Thompson shake hands after their talk at the Punahou Chapel on Feb. 19

More Than Just Academic Rigor

Evans began the presentation at Punahou telling parents that for many years, the thinking about preparing children for the future involved instilling the most rigorous academic curriculum. Then, as college admissions became more competitive, many schools not only increased the quantity of what kids would learn, but began pushing it on younger children.

Evans says people who think about the future – educators, CEOs, etc. – are now contemplating necessary skills, and determining that “soft skills,” including empathy, a capacity to adapt, rebound, connect with others and be flexible, are also essential for success. “It’s not casting out the rigor; it’s a question of balance,” Evans said. “At Google, they’ve decided that it’s useless to know what a job applicant’s college grades were or SAT scores, so they don’t bother to ask anymore. They’re not going to hire you based just on those kinds of credentials alone.”

Mental health considerations for children and teenagers also are important, considering many students are suffering from severe stress and anxiety. “No one is suggesting that it’s simply school rigor that’s causing this, but it’s clear there are kids who feel driven to master all of this in a way that doesn’t give them a chance to develop other personal strengths that they’ll need when they get out of college and in the workplace,” Evans says.

People who are chosen for positions of leadership and given promotions are more likely to be chosen based on their EQ, rather than their IQ, Thompson adds. “It is enormously helpful to get high scores on tests and get into an elite college,” he says. “But it is not sufficient to have a high IQ.”

To teach so-called soft skills, Thompson says schools such as Punahou are integrating programs like RULER, a social emotional learning program developed by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.

Key tips for parents from Evans and Thompson:

Lighten up: Accept that children have their own individual strengths and weaknesses. “Life trajectories are going to be different, and there are limits on how much we can shape those,” Evans says. “Most kids are going to end up activating their strengths. When you choose to send them to a school like [Punahou], you stand a much better chance of this happening, so a key question is not how your kid becomes things she is not, but how can she be the best of who she is?”

Teach by example, instead of by sermon: “When you think you’re teaching your kids, you’re preaching to them,” Evans says. “If we’re honest, we would say that we learned much more from the example our parents set, rather than from the sermons they preached.”

Trust your child’s development: “Trust your child’s journey, even if he or she is not in the top half of the class, because some of these kids are developing more persistence, perseverance and grit,” Thompson says. “Not all important learning is school-based. There are many kids who are going to be successful when they get out of school because they’re just not cut out for academics, but their journey should be trusted.”

Foster social and emotional skills: “A child can’t know what empathy is, unless he or she has experienced it,” Thompson says. “You teach empathy by being empathic to your child. Then you ask your child to identify a situation where empathy is required. And then at times, you ask your child to practice empathy. These are habits of heart, habits of mind and habits of practice. That’s how you teach social emotional skills.”

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