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Lighthouse parenting: Giving space for kids to learn while offering safety

Philadelphia's own parenting expert Kenneth Ginsburg, MD, MSEd, has a new book, Raising Kids To Thrive: Balancing Love With Expectations and Protection With Trust, which presents the strategy of “lighthouse parenting.”

Just like so many other “professions” that have drastically changed in the last 15 years, so has parenting.  As a parent educator, I work with over 350 parents annually – ranging from the at-risk to the privileged. They may come from varied backgrounds, but most have one thing in common. They struggle with questions about how to keep their kids safe while giving them the skills, knowledge and experiences they need to manage in this constantly changing world of social media, the internet, technology, and meeting high (and often unrealistic) expectations.

With so much misinformation constantly bombarding us, it's no wonder parents are drowning in an ocean of too many opinions and too few good answers. To be honest, even so-called parenting experts don't know all the answers to all the questions.

And when we don't, it's up to professionals and parents alike to seek advice that is researched-based, reviewed by authorities, supported by well-respected universities, institutions, professional associations, and most important of all, advice that works!

One source they can turn to is Philadelphia's very own Kenneth Ginsburg, MD, MSEd, and his just published book, Raising Kids To Thrive: Balancing Love With Expectations and Protection With Trust, published by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The book presents the concept of "lighthouse parenting," which says parents should be like lighthouses for their children, "beacons of light on a stable shoreline from which they can safely navigate the world. We must make certain they don't crash against the rocks, but trust they have the capacity to learn to ride the waves on their own."

Ginsburg, a professor at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania Schools of Medicine, also has lots of down to earth experience as a pediatrician and director of health services at Covenant House Pennsylvania

But even with Ginsburg's knowledge and resources, he knew he didn't have all the answers so he went to the real experts in this case – the teens themselves for his latest book. 

In a recent interview with Ginsburg, it was clear that what makes this book different and even more meaningful for him, was hearing directly from teens.

He started right at home with his teenage daughters and proudly shared that those discussions resulted in the teens writing two chapters. Expanding upon their input, Ginsburg sought additional answers from over 500 adolescents across the country.

Ginsberg said it was essential to talk to the teens. "Adults are always surprised about how much kids care, and that they always raise issues adults and even the experts have not considered," he said.

The questions the teens were asked were:

  1. When should parents protect?

  2. When should parents let teens learn on their own?

Their answers:

  1. Parents need to balance between trust and monitoring.

  2. Parents need to balance high expectations with unconditional love.

It is this issue of "balance" that perhaps is most challenging for parents.

To guide them through these rough waters, he developed the lighthouse parenting strategy which provides solutions, including how to:

  1. Balance unconditional love with high expectations.

  2. Eliminate the need for helicopter or "tiger" parenting or (whatever is the next media darling).

  3. Start meaningful conversations with children by being a sounding board, not necessarily a dictator.

  4. Be a stable beacon so their children can turn to them for guidance and self-measurement.

  5. Understand and accept that people are uneven and the importance of expecting growth, not perfection from children.

  6. Reduce anxiety – for themselves and their kids – as they venture out on their own and move into adulthood.

  7. Hold kids to high moral standards, while also being a role model for those standards.

Ginsburg not only lights the way for parents, he provides a life-jacket to keep them from drowning. Most of all, he's given them the confidence they need to safely navigate the waters of parenting in turbulent times.

You can find more information on fostering resiliency in children at:

Building Resilience in Children from the American Academy of Pediatrics

Fostering Resilience website from Kenneth Ginsburg, MD, MDEd

Resilience Guide for Parents & Teachers from the American Psychological Association

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