Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, whose first book Building Resilience in Teens and Children, recently came out with a second book that he co-authored with his twin teenager daughters Ilana and Talia. That book, Raising Kids to Thrive: Balancing Love with Expectations and Protection with Trust, is a great guide for modern parents who would like to find balance in their lives.
Ginsburg uses the term “lighthouse parents” to describe the perfect balance between helicopter parents and absent ones. While helicopter parents are always hovering and anxious, attempting to prepare and control everything, absent parents are standoffish and not engaged. The middle? A lighthouse parent. A lighthouse parent acts as a role model, a beacon against which a child can measure his or herself. A lighthouse parent also watches the rocks to ensure that their children do not crash against them, but also looks out towards the distance and trusts their children to ride the waves.
Why do you want to be a lighthouse parent? What’s the goal of lighthouse parenting? As Dr. Ginsburg explains, as a parent you don’t just want to raise a successful fifteen-year-old. You also want to raise a successful thirty-year-old, and forty-year-old, and fifty-year-old. If that’s the case, we need to figure out how to provide them with unconditional love, but also to set high expectations. We need to protect them, but also trust them.
As he explains, “We all want our children to be happy, but we need them to be resilient. We wish we could guarantee a future for them with bountiful opportunities and manageable bumps. Because we lack this control over the future, we must prepare our children to successfully handle both good and challenging times.
If resilience were a trait, something you had or didn’t have, there would be little we could do to foster it in our children. Part of what is so exciting – and important – about the work of youth development is that children’s resilience is largely determined by how parents and communities raise them.”
A few important pointers that Dr. Ginsburg (and his daughters) lay out are:
It is important to set high expectations, but they should be tied to effort and not results. Therefore, as a parent, you should always praise effort, and never praise results.
You should set clear boundaries, but then more or less get out of the way. When you set boundaries and then police them, children are less likely to be intrinsically motivated to respect them.
Discipline means to teach, not to punish or control. Consequences should match the problem so that the lesson is clearly understood.
Unconditional love means that you love your children and even as you set high expectations for them, you understand that they will make mistakes and you will love them regardless. Children need to understand this as well.
When we overprotect our children, we make them think they are not capable and that they cannot succeed without us in the future. We need to give our children room to fail and rise up in order for them to learn that they are capable. Dr. Ginsburg explains, “Don’t install control buttons. Instill guidance.”
Dr. Ginsburg begins his book with two interesting questions that he believes are at the crux of what parents wrestle with when attempting to build resilience in their children:
How do I give my child the unconditional love needed to thrive while also holding him to the high expectations needed for success?
We know kids need both, but on some level these two concepts are in opposition to each other. Doesn’t having expectations somehow undermine the unconditional nature of love?
How do I protect my child while letting her learn life’s lessons?
Intellectually we all know that we have to get out of the way to let life be the teacher it is meant to be. We know coddled children lack the confidence to handle challenges. Yet it is absolutely our job to protect our children, and even letting our children experience emotional discomfort goes again our ingrained desire to protect them. We struggle with when to protect and when to get out of the way and watch from the sidelines.
Can we answer these questions? Well, Dr. Ginsburg certainly does his very best to answer both of these questions – with his daughters’ help! He argues that if we can “resolve the tension these two principles of resilience pose, your child will have the security she can only gain from you and the confidence she can only develop from experience. She will be more than resilient; she will be poised to thrive.”
Can you learn to be a lighthouse parent? In the days of helicopter parenting, it might feel like being a lighthouse parent is a bit too hands-off. In the long-run though your children will be significantly happier and more successful if you trust them to ride the waves. After all, if they never learn how to swim, they will need you to continually hover for the rest of their lives!