By Zach Johnson
Is there a right way to parent?
That’s the question at the center of The Parent Test, a new ABC series (airing Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT and streaming next day on Hulu) that explores a range of distinctively different parenting styles. Each week, families are put under the microscope in a new parenting stress test, then share their learnings with one other. Host Ali Wentworth and parenting expert Dr. Adolph Brown (aka Doc Brown) moderate conversations between parents who sometimes have conflicting opinions about how to raise their families—but who all share the common goal of raising happy, healthy kids.
“It’s not a surprising lesson, but one of the things that doing this show has reaffirmed for me is that every parent—no matter what style they have—loves their children,” Wentworth, herself a mother of two, tells D23. “If I could say anything to parents, I would say this: Love your children. What I mean by that is express it, be present with them, hug them, tell them you love them—all of those things. Because, at the end of the day, that is the foundation for having a truly great connection with your children.” Brown adds, “I would piggyback on that by saying not only love them, but make sure that they know there’s nothing they could ever do to make you stop loving them.”
According to Wentworth, The Parent Test has been not only eye-opening for the participants, but for the viewers, too. “In doing this show, I noticed that children know more than you think,” she says. “They’re incredibly instinctual. When we put the kids in some challenges, they were not as naïve as we thought. Sometimes, as parents, we forget. We might assume they don’t know things—when, in fact, they’re pretty smart.”
Wentworth highlights the episode “Stranger Danger” as one example of how the series made her rethink the ways in which she prepared for own kids for life in the real world. “It’s a scary topic. I got emotional doing the episode because I believe that we need to be educators as parents, and I think that we have to scaffold our children with the understanding that there are dangers out in the world,” she says. “I had that talk with my own daughters when they were young, because I never wanted something to happen. It’s just an emotional subject in general, because nobody ever wants to have to think: ‘What if this happened to my kid?’ And we found that our parents in the audience had a very strong reaction to it, which brought up my own strong reaction.”
In tonight’s episode, “Limits & Boundaries,” the Strict, High Achievement, and Free-Range families return to the hot seat for a new set of challenges that test the kids’ abilities to function without their parents. No matter how they perform, Brown—a father of eight children and a clinical psychologist with three decades of experience—is heedful that there is no “one” way to parent. However, he notes, there are better approaches than others—and even those may need to be updated over time. “Whatever style you choose, make sure it incorporates fun, which is an authentic part of learning,” Brown tells D23. “Being fair basically means rearing the child you have—not the one you wish you had. Be firm. That means having consistency, structure, limits, and boundaries in a child’s life, which helps that child feel safe. And be flexible. Recognize that as your child grows and changes, so will you. So, whatever style you have may need to adjust.”
The Parent Test season finale airs Thursday, February 16, on ABC and streams the following day on Hulu.