In recent years, parenting styles like the “Helicopter,” “Lawnmower,” and “Jellyfish” have grabbed media headlines. Many gain attention due to their extreme methods. But there’s one approach every parent needs in their parenting toolbox. It’s a style that stands the test of time and is backed by decades of research. For those who prefer a catchy name, we call it “Lighthouse Parenting.” Think you haven’t heard of this style yet? You may have but just don’t realize it. Academics refer to it as “Authoritative Parenting” and it’s all about balance. Its methods aren’t extreme, rather it’s centered around the combination of protecting and caring for children.
So, what’s with the “lighthouse?” These parents are like lighthouses because they metaphorically act as stable forces on the shoreline that their children can measure themselves against. They guide them away from the rocks to make sure they don’t crash. While keeping watch, they also trust their children will learn to ride the waves on their own. And they prepare them to do so.
What the Research Shows
Parents who use this balanced style raise children with stronger emotional well-being and mental health. Children of balanced parents tend to be less involved with risky behaviors, such as experimenting with alcohol, drugs, or other illicit substances. They often do better in school. They are likely to have close family relationships and to communicate openly. And recently, a team of researchers discovered the two key ingredients of balanced parenting -- warmth and control -- have relevance to parents across the globe.
Finding the Balance
Finding balance as a parent isn’t easy. It starts with making it clear how much you care about your child, while also explaining your need to keep them safe. It’s about expressing love while maintaining high expectations. It’s about protecting your children while still trusting them. It’s never too late to embrace a more balanced parenting style.
Lighthouse Parenting Tips
Here are five strategies to be a lighthouse parent.
- Create Boundaries Around Safety: While young people need freedom to explore, they also need parental guidance. They want to know their parents are keeping them safe. Always start by reassuring your children how much you love them. Let them know you are on their side, and that safety is your priority. Kids are more likely to stay within boundaries when they understand they are established for safety reasons. Make sure your children understand behaviors that threaten safety are not allowed. (E.g. You many never get into a car with a driver who is impaired.) Explain that these boundaries won’t change. But, let them know as they demonstrate trustworthiness in other areas, you’ll be flexible and consider expanding limits.
- Make Rules That are Likely to be Followed: The way parents communicate rules makes a difference in how children react. Begin with a clear explanation why the rule was established. Without this, children may incorrectly assume the rule is an attempt to control them. And when they feel controlled -- or think someone is interfering with their personal lives -- they resent it and may push back. Try to frame rules about safety, values, and how to act in society. And whenever possible, involve your children as you establish the rules in the first place. By doing so, they’ll be more motivated to follow them later.
- Offer Channels for Open Communication: Parents who engage in two-way communication allow their tweens and teens to express their own ideas and beliefs. Young people who engage in dialogue with parents learn skills that can also help them outside of the family. But not all teens come through the door ready to chat. So, be mindful about how, when, and where your teen communicates most effectively. Avoid talking when emotions are running high. There must be give-and-take. Show your teen you are responsive to their needs.
- Be the Kind of Parent Kids Talk to: Do your children come to you for advice? Think about it from their point of view. Do they know what your answer to them will be before they’ve even asked you a question? If so, that’s a guarantee they won’t bother to ask in the first place. Avoid peppering them with questions when they do come to you. Listen to what they have to say without passing judgement. Give them your thoughts if and when they ask for them -- but know there will be many times when they want to talk without having you offer a solution. Rather, let them bounce ideas or concerns off you and work things through for themselves.
- Express Unconditional Love: Love is the most protective force you can offer your children. By expressing how much you care, they’ll know they are worthy of being loved. A strengthened self-worth positively bolsters children’s behaviors and emotions. It also models how they should act and express themselves in future relationships. So, tell your children you love them. See the best in them -- but that best shouldn’t be based on grades, scores, awards, what they produce, or behaviors they may display in the moment. It’s about the essential goodness they possess. This will give them the confidence needed to take chances and recover even during difficult times.
We are always striving to find a balance at home, work, in our relationships, and in how we parent. Different circumstances may lead towards different parenting approaches. Safety, as well as cultural and community values, and children’s individual needs likely influence decisions. It’s up to each parent to apply this style in a way that works within their unique situation. But all parents benefit by viewing themselves as a constant beacon of light, guiding their children as they navigate life, and make it through any stormy weather.