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Environment and it’s impact on potential

Great Parenting Can Overcome Any Environmental Challenges

It seems that the world has just woken up to something I have known for a long time; a person’s environment can have a huge impact on their potential.

A young girl in the street on a post talking about potential.

Photo by Mike Von on Unsplash

Parenting can overcome issues and raise potential. 

Environmental Psychologists have long been of the opinion that great parenting can overcome any environmental issues a child may face, but if a child has a bad environment and bad parenting then really they don’t stand a chance. Their potential will always be limited. I saw this constantly in the police and continued to do so in my work with young people, the combination of these two can be lethal and most interventions fail because you can’t change their environment or their parents.


But if you could take them out of the environment what might happen? Well, according to some recent research it can dramatically improve their future. Out of a cohort of youngsters who were previously in care and then sent to a boarding school, the majority was subsequently taken off their local council’s risk register, recent research is expected to show. Their potential increased

In my ideal world, every at-risk child would get sent to a brilliant boarding school, I’m convinced we would end up saving society a fortune, and that’s before we even consider that these types of interventions may turn a disillusioned young person into a contributing citizen full of potential.


But it sounds so simple doesn’t it, just take them out of their home environment and all will be well and in reality, it is. But what is happening is a little more complicated than that. It’s more complicated than swapping a cluttered bedroom for an orderly dormitory or a graffiti-ridden street for lush surroundings. It’s about breaking cultural legacy and constructively cultivating these young people. These are two hugely important things to consider when we are trying to determine what might be making a youth disengaged and downright difficult.

CULTURAL LEGACY and its link to potential 

After devouring Malcolm Gladwell’s work in Outlier I became convinced that cultural legacy and constructive cultivation had to form part of my framework, as they seem too important to leave out, yet most youth interventions don’t even take them into consideration, expecting the youth to change just because they want them too. These two things have the biggest impact on potential. 

Cultural Legacy is the legacy you bring with you from your culture, which doesn’t have to be of a racial nature, it could just be the culture from the area where you live, or your family or previous generations, for example. So if we think of a child in care and at risk we can see how important taking note of this may be. Even in myself, a well adjusted (kind of) women I can see that cultural legacy played a huge part in my decision-making process. For me growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, in the steel town of Scunthorpe, I was always up against my cultural legacy. I was a working class, northern girl and my job was to bring up a family. You didn’t have lofty goals and you sure as hell didn’t dream of success outside the small confines of our area.


My cultural legacy was set up for me not to succeed. It was not evident to me then, but now when I think about it, in every decision I made my cultural legacy had an impact. I cannot go to that college as all the posh kids go there, I cannot take A levels, that is for intelligent kids, I cannot go out with that boy – look at the size of his house, I cannot go for that job, they will all look down on me. Can you even begin to imagine the scaring cultural legacy that a child in care or at risk carries? Often, coming from a culture of abuse, neglect and feeling abandoned, not wanted; I mean why should you even behave? Who cares anyway?

And this is where the boarding school step in; I think that little by little they chip away at this, asking if what they think about themselves is true, showing them that someone does care and changing the narrative that the young person has about themselves.

CONSTRUCTIVE CULTIVATION and its link to potential

Constructive cultivation is something that is missing for a lot of children, not just children in care or at risk and it can really mean the difference between success and failure for a young person. Constructive cultivation is what middle and upper-class parents do with their children to help them on in life. They push, have high expectations, enrol them in extra classes, ask about homework and attend Parent-Teacher Association meetings. Children from the lower social classes tend to not get as much encouragement and the long summer holidays often see these children falling behind without any extra-curricular activities. And for a lot of children in care or at risk this will be none existent. If there is a place where boarding schools excel it is in constructive cultivation; they push, they demand extra and have numerous activities on offer, often scheduling children far more than any of us would like. A child who had never been cultivated in their life, while at first may resist would over time start to perhaps thinking they were worth something more, give it a go, and be surprised to find they could actually do and achieve more than they ever could.

Now, I am not naive enough to think that boarding schools are perfect and the answer for everyone and I’m not insensitive enough to think that every child that goes into care doesn’t have a complex set of reasons for that, but what I do know is that cultural legacy and constructive cultivation are things that form our identities and therefore our behaviour and any environment that will help a young person improve on this is a win in my book.

So what do you think about potential? 

Learn more about Decoding Behaviour

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