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Pediatrician is changing the way we think about teens with 'lighthouse parenting' tips

Dr. Ken Ginsburg’s advice for parents is like a hug, TED talk and Masterclass rolled into one.

parenting teens
Photo by Josh Hild on Unsplash

'Lighthouse parenting' can help make raising teens less rocky.

As a parent of teens, I often wonder: Why didn’t anyone tell me it would be like this? I don’t mean the warnings and complaints about how challenging the teen years are. I don’t mean all of the “just you wait” admonitions. I don’t mean the cliches and memes. What I want to know is why no one told me how awesome raising teens can be.

Don’t get me wrong, raising teens is not without its challenges. But for the most part, the teen years are portrayed as something to survive, not something to enjoy—and Dr. Ken Ginsburg is on a mission to change that.

A pediatrician specializing in adolescent medicine, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, and co-founder and director of programs at the Center for Parent and Teen Communication, Dr. Ginsburg has focused his career on changing how we think about, treat and raise teenagers.

His message of optimism is a welcome respite from the constant doomsday messages we hear about teenagers. The cliches, warnings and complaints about teens start early and continue often. Parents need to vent—and there is a lot to vent about—but the narratives we tell about teens are so one-sided and predominantly negative that I’ve been legit shocked at how fulfilling, rewarding and—dare I say—fun raising teens can be. Why didn’t anyone tell me about this?

Ginsburg told Upworthy he suspects that part of the reason for the success of his latest book—"Congrats, You’re Having a Teen"—is that people are hungry for a book about teens that doesn’t focus on survival.

Raising teens isn’t all sunshine and roses. It is nerve-wracking, terrifying and emotional. But Ginsburg has made it his life’s work to dispel common myths about teens. Some key culprits: the misconception that teens don’t care what their parents think, that teens are inherently risk-prone and that teens don’t act rationally. To counteract the damaging impact of these myths, Dr. Ginsburg promotes “lighthouse parenting.”

“Parents,” Dr. Ginsburg advises, “you should be like a lighthouse for your child—a stable force on the shoreline from which they should measure themselves against. You should look down at the rocks and make sure they don’t crash against them. Look into the waves and trust that they will learn to ride them, and it’s your job to prepare them to do so.”

Unlike other talked-about parenting styles, like helicopter parenting and free-range parenting, lighthouse parenting—or balanced parenting—is grounded in science. Decades of research shows that not only does lighthouse parenting yield better academic, social, mental/emotional health and behavior outcomes, but (perhaps most importantly) it also leads to better relationships between parents and their children.

How do we tell the difference between rocks and waves? Is graduating from high school a rock or a wave? What about getting into college? Is underage drinking a choppy wave or a sharp rock?

Ginsburg explains it like this: Waves are challenges that you can ride through with the right skill sets, but rocks are dangers you might not survive no matter how prepared you are. Didn’t study for an important test? A wave. Getting in the car with a driver who has been drinking? A rock, definitely a rock.

I’ll be honest, in today’s increasingly high-stakes and ultra-competitive world of college admissions, travel sports and prestigious schools, it can be hard to know when to step in and when to let your child lead the way—especially when you know a wave might crash on top of them, leaving them gasping for air. But Ginsburg has a navigational tool for that too: think about the 35-year-old you’re raising.

When we look at success narrowly in terms of accomplishments, Ginsburg says we’re focusing on what our children are doing rather than who they are being and becoming. But when parents shift their focus onto the 35-year-old version of their teen, we look at success very differently with a focus on who they really are.

“The starting point is to know your child,” he says. “For a child to be ultimately successful, it has to be success that matches who they really are, not your vision of who they might become.”

Another mind-blowing piece of advice? Raise teens for their second job, not their first. Their first job might be influenced by accomplishments like good grades and high SAT scores, but their second job is when character traits like compassion and perseverance have a chance to shine.

Being a lighthouse, raising the 35-year-old and preparing them for their second job can be easier said than done, especially when a teen is slamming a door in your face or telling you (once again) that you don’t know what you’re talking about. But our teens aren’t pushing us away, Ginsburg says, they are simply struggling with their own growing independence.

The frustration is real, he acknowledges, but it is rooted in misunderstandings about teen development. Research shows that young people actually do care deeply about what their parents think, and they want to have good relationships with their parents.

So stay calm, be the lighthouse, ride the waves.

“The most protective thing in a young person’s life is to be known, seen, and valued just as you are, with all of your strengths and all of your limitations,” he told Upworthy. “When you know that the person who knows you the most, knows your character strengths and those areas in need of improvement—and that person continues to adore you, that gives you strength to launch into adulthood truly secure in who you are. That’s what gives you the strength to navigate the waves of adolescence when other people are challenging who you are.”

Ginsburg’s book was released in early October and he's been doing television interviews that are resonating with many people. I’ll admit, I was on the verge of tears for nearly our entire interview. His advice feels like a hug, a TED talk and a Masterclass on parenting all rolled into one. In the words of Sheinelle Jones, who interviewed him on TODAY, “This was a sermon.”

Amen.

A young woman drinking bottled water outdoors before exercising.



The Story of Bottled Waterwww.youtube.com

Here are six facts from the video above by The Story of Stuff Project that I'll definitely remember next time I'm tempted to buy bottled water.

1. Bottled water is more expensive than tap water (and not just a little).

via The Story of Stuff Project/YouTube


A Business Insider column noted that two-thirds of the bottled water sold in the United States is in individual 16.9-ounce bottles, which comes out to roughly $7.50 per gallon. That's about 2,000 times higher than the cost of a gallon of tap water.

And in an article in 20 Something Finance, G.E. Miller investigated the cost of bottled versus tap water for himself. He found that he could fill 4,787 20-ounce bottles with tap water for only $2.10! So if he paid $1 for a bottled water, he'd be paying 2,279 times the cost of tap.

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“As we were making vegetable soup, we landed on the idea of cooking it on stage and performing a concert with the vegetables while we were doing that,” Meinharter told Atlas Obscura. “It all started as a joke,” he told the BBC. “We were brainstorming what we could do, and we thought: ‘What is the most difficult thing to play music on?’”

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Neil DeGrasse Tyson at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA.

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Karen Blaha/Wikimedia Commons

Crinkle crankle walls are more common the U.K., but they can be found in the U.S. as well.

If you were to draw a straight line and a wavy line from point A to point B, there would be no question which one used more ink. After all, "The shortest distance between two points (on a flat surface) is a straight line" has been baked into our brains since elementary school math class. Logically, a wavy line uses more ink because it covers more distance, right? Right.

So if that's true, how is it possible that a brick wall built in a wavy pattern could use fewer bricks than a straight one built between the exact same two points?

Not only is it possible, it's actually true, despite people's disbelief over the fact.

A post on X from @InternetHOF shows the claim that "corrugated brick fences" sometimes seen in England use fewer bricks than a straight wall, with the caption, "I don't believe this is true."

It does seem illogical from a pure geometry-on-paper standpoint, but what makes it true is how the structural integrity of brick walls works.

There are all kinds of nitty-gritty calculations a structural engineer could get into to explain, but thankfully, internet hero (and strangely popular X account) Greg came to everyone's rescue with an explanation that neatly fit into a single post on X.

"They're called crinkle crankles," wrote Greg. "A single leaf wall over that distance would need brick piers approx every 1.5-2m if it was a retaining wall it would need to be at least 9” wide (2 bricks). The crinkle crankle has more strength due to it’s curved nature so can be 4” wide or a single leaf of bricks.

"For the maths if we can assume they’re true semi-circles then each semi circle would be 1/2piD or 1.57D whereas a double leaf wall would be 2D for the same length D.

"Therefore using 21.5% less bricks than a double leaf wall hope that clears things up."

In even simpler terms, a long, straight brick wall only a single brick wide would not be able to stand without some kind of buttresses every couple of meters, which would actually take more bricks to build. Otherwise, it would need to be thicker, which would also increase the number of bricks needed. The curve of the crinkle crankle (best name ever) provides stability all on its own, so the wall doesn't need structured supports.

serpentine brick wall next to a bunch of daffodils

Crinkle crankle walls are usually referred to as serpentine walls in the U.S.

Karen Blaha/Wikimedia Commons

First of all, what a cool piece of human ingenuity that people actually figured this out hundreds of years ago. And second of all, why are there not more crinkle crankle walls everywhere? So much more fun and whimsical. And apparently, a better use of resources.

But before you go building your own crinkle crankle wall to make your house look super cool, make sure you've got the geometry correct. There are actual specifications for making a structurally sound serpentine wall, and if you don't do it correctly, you may find yourself with a pile of bricks and no wall, curvy or straight.

If you want to see some cool crinkle crankle walls in the U.S., head to the University of Virginia. Thomas Jefferson himself added them to the design of the Charlottesville, Virginia, campus.

wavy brick wall separating a grassy area and a driveway

Crinkle crankle wall at the University of Virginia

Carlin MacKenzie/Wikimedia Commons

More crinkle crankles everywhere, please.