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Lighthouse Parenting: Is It Right for You and Your Kids?

There are 'tiger moms' and 'helicopter parents,' so what's 'lighthouse parenting'? Here's everything you need to know about this new style.

Maybe you’ve heard about the “lighthouse” approach to parenting from other moms and dads on the playground, or maybe you saw it somewhere online mixed in with a lot of other approaches and styles. But what is lighthouse parenting? How does it compare with other styles out there and is it right for you and your family?

What Does It Mean to Be a Lighthouse Parent?

Lighthouse parenting is a term coined by Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg in his book “Raising Kids to Thrive.” According to Dr. Ginsburg, a well-known physician of adolescent medicine, professor and author, parents should be lighthouses for their children, visible from the shoreline as a stable light or beacon.

They should make sure their children don’t crash against the rocks, yet allow them to ride the waves even if they get a little choppy sometimes. Lighthouses are solid symbols, always there to guide you and help you get your bearings — and that’s exactly what lighthouse parents are to their children.

There are two main principles of lighthouse parenting:

  • Giving unconditional love: Loving your kids without conditions gives them the security they need to have enough confidence to get through the difficulties of life. It’s important to note that unconditional love doesn’t mean unconditional approval. You still need to set high standards for behavior, which helps kids form strong character and morals. You love them but don’t always love their behaviors — it’s important to differentiate between the two.
  • Letting children fail: Kids won’t learn life lessons, whether good or bad, if they don’t get a chance to experience them firsthand. Your kids need to fall or fail — not always win or succeed. It’s part of life and helps teach resilience. It’s important to note that as their “lighthouse” you should protect them against challenges that are not age-appropriate or may cause serious harm.

How Does It Compare?

Lighthouse parenting may sound a bit like free-range parenting, in which children are given autonomy at a very young age to do things like go to the park on their own. There is also an emphasis on free time, as opposed to a full schedule of activities. Lighthouse parenting, however, offers more guidance and a little more structure than free-range parenting, which takes a more hands-off approach.

You might say, though, that both of those parenting styles come as a response to the so-called tiger parents and helicopter parents. Like lighthouse parents, tiger parents set high standards of achievement for their kids, but unlike the former, they set strict rules and remain extremely involved in their children’s lives to ensure achievement.

Helicopter parents are also very involved in their children’s lives. In this case, however, it is to shield their children from disappointment, failure, and conflict — all things lighthouse parents allow their children to confront on their own.

What truly separates lighthouse parents from others is a sense of balance. The goal is the healthy formation and balance of independence and dependence, something that many experts and teachers say is lacking in kids today.

Is It Right for You?

With so many parenting styles out there, how do you know if this style is for you? Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does the lighthouse method resonate with your general parenting style and desires for your child?
  • Are you willing to be present for your child but take a step back when he needs to learn on his own?
  • Can you let your child make her own choices?
  • If your child makes mistakes, falls or fails, do you view it as a necessary learning experience?
  • Are you comfortable setting boundaries for your kids and enforcing them consistently?

If you answered “yes” to the above, lighthouse parenting just might be the right style for you. Are you curious about other styles? Check out Parenting Styles Revealed.

Ever wonder how parents abroad raise their kids? Read Different Parenting Styles in Different Countries to find out what your parental counterparts are doing across the globe.

Laura Richards is a Boston-based freelance writer and the mother of four boys, including a set of identical twins. She has written for numerous publications and is the president of On Point Communications. Many of her articles can be found on her personal blog.

What styles of parenting have you tried in the past? Please share in the comments!

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