Psychologist stresses importance of parenting to health grads

Eric Jackman - York University Fall 2010 Convocation
Above: Eric Jackman smiles after receiving an honorary doctor of laws degree Wednesday at York’s Fall 2010 Convocation

It’s not often you’ll hear someone name a children’s book as required reading at a convocation ceremony, but that’s what Frederic “Eric” Jackman did for the 2010 graduating class of York’s Faculty of Health Wednesday.

“The book I am about to mention may be all that you remember about me and I would be pleased if that were so,” said the philanthropist, psychologist and president of Invicta Investments Incorporated. The book is a nursery story by Robert Munsch titled Love You Forever, said Jackman in his acceptance speech after receiving an honorary doctor of laws degree from York University. “You have probably heard of it. It may have been read to you as a child. I would like you to buy one. I would like you to keep it in your home forever and read it once a year.”

Jackman’s suggestion came at the end of his remarks, which centred on his lifelong interest in the health of children and families and his work as president of the Psychology Foundation of Canada. In particular, Jackman, also chair of the Jackman Foundation, spoke about the importance of parenting in the early development of a child’s brain.

Eric JackmanLeft: Jackman congratulated graduates’ parents for successfully nurturing their children’s learning skills

“Neuroscientists are adding evidence of how the brain continues to develop after birth,” he said. “These scientists have put to rest the idea that the brain is fully developed at birth. They have also changed our thinking that the influence of genes was set and a child’s future development was cast in stone. This is not so.”

“Research…shows that negative psychological environments can also have toxic effects on the brain and the stress regulation systems that can last a lifetime, said Jackman, explaining the importance of good parenting. “Genes do not automatically activate themselves after birth. Some genes need nurturing – and this is where the parents come in, students. The greatest nurturance comes from the quality of the infant-parent relationship.”

Jackman made a point of noting contributions by York faculty members in the work of the Psychology Foundation of Canada. “To aid in the reduction of childhood stress and to help parents provide enriched and enlightened parenting, the Psychology Foundation of Canada has developed a major program called Kids Have Stress Too,” he said. Developed in part by late York psychology professor Harold Minden and nurse Claire McDerment, this bilingual, national program’s goal is to help those working with children to identify signs of stress and provide the tools and the ideas to help the child alleviate that stress.

“Another program is called Parenting For Life, an award-winning series of helpful booklets on many aspects of parenting with over one million in circulation. And I am pleased to say that this program is chaired by York psychology Professor Dr. Ester Cole.”

Jackman opened his remarks with a saying that resonated with Faculty of Health Dean Harvey Skinner. “Life consists of exchanging time for experience…. Don’t get stuck in a boring job,” Jackman said. “Follow your passion, get into something you want to do, change your experiences.”

The chancellor emeritus of the University of Windsor also asked graduates to think ahead to the time when they may become parents and to realize what an important influence they can have both on their children and the health-care system. “In your professional careers, as nurses, kinesiologists and psychologists, you know that pre-natal, post-natal experiences can affect long-term outcomes and health services for all pregnant women, infants and toddlers…[and] would reduce preventable diseases throughout the lifespan.”

Skinner thanked Jackman for his comments and added his own exhortation to graduates to become advocates for such methods by quoting one of his favourite television characters, Captain Jean-Luc Picard of “Star Trek”. “Make it so,” he said.

York’s 2010 Fall Convocation ceremonies are streamed live and then archived online. To view Jackman’s convocation address, visit the Convocation website.