When you think about what kind of parent you want to be, what image comes to mind?
Ken Ginsburg, MD, MSEd, a doctor in the Craig-Dalsimer Division of Adolescent Medicine at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia has a suggestion for parents: Think of yourself as a lighthouse.
"We should be lighthouses for our children — beacons of light on a stable shoreline from which they can safely navigate the world," he explains. "We must make certain they don't crash against the rocks, but build their capacity to learn to ride the waves on their own."
That is just one gem among hundreds Ginsburg shares in Raising Kids to Thrive: Balancing Love with Expectations and Protection with Trust, which was published by the American Academy of Pediatrics in March. It is a follow-up to his first book, Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Kids Roots and Wings.
In his books, Ginsburg strives to help parents find the balance between unconditionally loving their kids while still setting high expectations, and protecting them while still preparing them for life.
"These are two fundamental conflicts parents have," he says. "Parents want to raise kids to be successful and not frozen by fear of failure."
Ginsburg's idea of a thriving, successful child is one who becomes "a healthy 35-year-old who finds meaning in his or her life." He does not narrowly define success as bringing home excellent grades, playing on a travel sports team or getting into a top-ranked college.
High expectations should be centered around morality, resilience, hard work and adapting to change. Recognizing that children are not going to be high achieving in all aspects of their lives — and helping them celebrate this "unevenness" and find the individual path that is best in tune with their strengths and interests — is a critical element of parenting.
Figuring out how high to set the bar, be it for school, sports, music or other activities, varies for each child and over time. Focusing on effort, not necessarily results, puts the expectations on something the child can control, Ginsburg says.
He had special help on Raising Kids to Thrive. His co-authors were his now-19-year-old twin daughters, Ilana and Talia. They were responsible for one major component of the book: input from more than 500 adolescents who responded to online questions and gave their opinions on what makes for good parenting.
In addition to his own parenting experience, Ginsburg also draws from his 27 years of pediatric and adolescent practice, including serving as medical director for Pennsylvania Covenant House (a shelter in Germantown for runaway, homeless and trafficked youth), helping children in military families cope with frequent relocations and deployments, and working with the National Congress for American Indians to develop resilience-building strategies for Native American youth.
"As a doctor, I want kids prepared so they're more likely to choose better, healthier behaviors and less likely to take risks. I want them to be emotionally healthy and poised for success,"Ginsburg says. "Unlike some extreme styles of parenting that get a lot of press, balanced parenting is rooted in decades of research. What I think makes this book unique is that the advice is also infused with wisdom from young people."