"Lighthouse Parents" Are Getting Blowback For Letting Their Kids Swim In The Ocean Alone
The parents, who appeared on the show 'Parental Guidance,' let their kids swim alone while they watch from afar.
Parenting styles can affect your kid a lot, and in some extreme cases, it could affect their health and safety. While it’s almost always a good idea to “live and let live” when it comes to other people’s parenting choices, is there a time to speak up if you think kiddos are in danger of hurting themselves?
This week, one set of “lighthouse parents” are under fire after footage aired of their 6-year-old and 10-year-old kids, Pepper and Jude, play in the ocean as they watched from a far-away balcony. The couple, Sammy and Jason, appeared on the Australian show Parental Guidance, which compares and contrasts families with starkly different approaches to raising kids.
“Lighthouse parents,” by their definition, are parents who watch their kids from afar, and will shine their knowledge and wisdom on them, but allow them to take care of their own issues independently in the world. It’s about being watchful, but hands-off. Kids with lighthouse parents can make many of their own decisions (unlike kids with authoritarian parents), go out into the world without help (unlike some of those with more attachment parents), and make their own mistakes.
Of course, lighthouse parenting could be used as an excuse to not parent much at all — letting your kids do what they want could make it hard to set boundaries, make rules, or make decisions for the family. At the same time, giving young kids too much independence could be dangerous. Critics of lighthouse parenting might wonder: are young kids really in the position, emotionally or intellectually, to make so many decisions by themselves safely? Are they just parenting themselves?
While some hailed their parenting as a great way to raise independent kids, others were shocked by the freedom the kids had, saying it went past independence and into danger.
"I feel ill," said Leanne, one of the other moms on the show, after watching a video of the children swimming while the parents watched from their balcony. "That water can change in an instant, and from where you are and where the kids are... they're gone.”
"I don't want to give my kids any fear in life,” Sammy explained. “I want them to back themselves. It's not possible for us to be there all the time so it's important we teach them to fend for themselves. We can't focus our attention on each individual kid, which means we have to let the other kids have their own freedom and their own space. So we're happy for the two older ones to go swimming by themselves. It's an opportunity for them to showcase how independent they can be, and give them some trust as well."
She also added that there were both flags and lifeguards on the beach.
"Are the lifeguards then the babysitters?" the host Allison Langdon questioned, pushing back.
"Anything our children do we assess the risks,” Sammy said.
Over on Twitter, the viewer reactions were strong.
“I am screaming! Letting the kids swim in the ocean!?! It’s not about trust of the kids, you can’t trust the ocean and rips,” one user wrote.
“I couldn’t believe my eyes,” another wrote.
On the other hand, a few parents were comfortable with the decision.
“Ok I get water is dangerous, but these ppl live by the beach, their kids know water,” one said. “As a kid, 9, 10,12 yo, we'd go to Lorne & I'd be swimming on my own, in the ocean, trying to keep up w/dad Sure,a bit risky, but so is playing football, or trailbike riding”
The other parents on the show consist of Gentle Parents, Outback Parents, and Honest Parents.
Like anything else in parenting, there are no hard and fast rules for ocean safety and kids — if you live on the beach and go in the water every day with your kids, they will likely be able to be safe in the water much earlier than kids who only visit the beach on vacation.
Still, it’s important to remember that around 1,000 kids drown each year in the United States while 7,000 more land in the emergency room — and that more kids drown in the open water of lakes and oceans than in pools. Furthermore, your kids can drown even if you’re nearby.
What is lighthouse parenting?
So, what is lighthouse parenting anyway? According to the Center for Parent and Teen Communication, author Ken Ginsburg writes, “I like to think of myself as a “Lighthouse Parent.” A stable force on the shoreline my child can measure themselves against. I see it as my job to look down at the rocks and make sure they do not crash against them. I look into the waves and trust they will eventually learn to ride them on their own. But I will prepare them to do so.”
As a lighthouse, the parents can point out faraway dangers for their kids and guide them to safety with their “light” or knowledge. But at the same time, they remain at a distance and allow their kids to “sail” on their own, without helicoptering or hand-holding.
Lighthouse parents put a lot of trust in their kids and hope that their distanced guidance will help their children grow into independent problem-solvers who can take care of themselves and navigate the world confidently. Kids with lighthouse parents can make many of their own decisions (unlike kids with authoritarian parents), go out into the world without help (unlike some of those with more attachment parents), and make their own mistakes.
On the flip side, lighthouse parenting could be used as an excuse to not parent much at all — letting your kids do what they want could make it hard to set boundaries, make rules, or make decisions for the family. At the same time, giving young kids too much independence could be dangerous. Critics of lighthouse parenting might wonder: are young kids really in the position, emotionally or intellectually, to make so many decisions by themselves safely? Are they just parenting themselves?