Protecting Teens: Preparation is Protection

Protection For Our Children

From the moment our children are born, we want to protect them. The drive to keep them safe is ingrained in our parental DNA. Many parents say that they can more easily handle personal challenges than bear watching their child in pain.

Having a child sometimes feels like having your heart on the outside of your body.

Our children are born helpless. As they grow, their survival depends on us less and less. They learn to stand on wobbly legs and what seems like moments later, we are chasing after them. One day they are babbling and in no time they are ordering us around. With each new talent mastered, they move closer to being able to survive without us.

Protection in Adolescence

In adolescence, the pace of development once again quickens. We worry about all of the new things they are exposed to. Sometimes we fear for their safety. Our teens surviving must not be our only goal. We want so much more — we want them to get the most out of development so they will thrive in adulthood.

In some ways, adolescents need us as much as they ever did. But their needs are more complex than earlier. We must guide them to navigate an increasingly complicated world.

In some ways, adolescents need us as much as they ever did. But their needs are more complex than earlier. We must guide them to navigate an increasingly complicated world.

Temper our Protective Instincts

One of the greatest challenges of parenting is figuring out how best to protect our children — now and far into the future. If we thought only of the now, perhaps the best strategy would be to fight like a mama or papa bear and pounce every time danger approached. Or we would hover close by to assure our children never stray too far.

But hovering and pouncing push them away from us. We may create insecurity within them. We can unintentionally send the message, “I don’t think you’re capable of handling this on your own.”  That message suggests, “I worry about your becoming increasingly independent.”

Because the fundamental question of adolescence is “Who am I?”, anything we do that stifles our adolescents’ self-discovery can backfire. When we shut them down as they push and test limits, it can unintentionally force them to push us away.

Let Life be a Teacher

We must think beyond the present, we have to prepare our children for the journey they will navigate without us. They must learn to make their own decisions and choose their own safe and moral paths.  One of the hardest questions of parenting is, “How do we protect our children while also letting them learn from life’s lessons?” A starting point is to have boundaries in place that assures they stay within safe and moral boundaries.

We know that it is life’s lessons that prepare young people to take on the world independently. But these lessons have their greatest effect when we guide our children to live up to their very best selves and to avoid danger in the first place. When we let them approach new experiences already equipped with existing skill-sets ready to be sharpened and values readied to be honed. Finally, we must be prepared to underscore and reinforce the lessons calmly and respectfully without “I told you so!” judgment.

Preparation is Protection

Our ultimate goal is to have children who are interdependent with us — mutually reliant as they become adults with families of their own. Interdependence is fostered by our adolescents understanding that we honor and prioritize their growing independence. That we see them as capable of standing on their own. That we will protect them, but not overprotect them. You know those times when we hit the “control button” on issues that cause us to jump with alarm but make our teens feel like we’re trying to control them? When we don’t overprotect, our children will choose to come to us for advice.

So how do we really protect our children? By building their capabilities. By preparing them to navigate the world. By assuring they have the skill-sets to manage social challenges and academic settings.


Preparing Teens Now to Protect Them Later

The best protection for young people is to prepare them to navigate the world successfully. Learn how to prepare your teens.


Let Life Offer Lessons

Help teens learn to stand back up after falling down.


Get Out of the Way

But watch closely from the sidelines. Jump in when necessary if danger or morality is at stake.


Build Skills

Build social and organizational skills that enable teens to first impress, and then work with people. Support them to navigate the peer world. Teach them the tricks of efficiency that will help them in school today, and work tomorrow.


Be a “Lighthouse Parent”

Trust them to navigate choppy waters but be the spotlight to guide them to the shore safely. Balance warmth and love with rules and expectations. Doing so leads to young people prepared to thrive.

Be a Lighthouse Parent

Preparation is the very best protection for our children. They appreciate our guidance on how to manage the world. They learn to trust themselves because we trust them. We trust them because we have prepared them. They see themselves as capable because we ensured they possess the skills to manage their own lives.

So how do you protect your children while also letting them learn from life’s lessons? Be lighthouse parents. Stable forces on the shoreline from which children can measure themselves against. Look down at the rocks to be certain they will not crash against them. Look into the waves and trust in their ability to learn to ride them. And, prepare them to do so.

About Ken Ginsburg

Ken Ginsburg, MD, MSEd, is Founding Director of CPTC and Professor of Pediatrics at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. He travels the world speaking to parent, professional, and youth audiences and is the author of 5 award-winning parenting books including a multimedia professional toolkit on “Reaching Teens.” CPTC follows his strength-based philosophy and resilience-building model. For more on Dr. Ginsburg visit

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