Why Parents Shouldn't be Friends with Their Children
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Why Parents Shouldn't be Friends with Their Children

Authority, boundaries and accountability must guide parent-child relationships

Let’s face it: As kids get older, it becomes more challenging for parents to secure their trust and confidence. It's tempting to view the relationships they start to build with their friends as something to aspire to; something that just might help us earn that precious confidence that's in such short supply when the teen years begin to roll in. 

Choosing between being a parent or a friend has become a common dilemma that many caregivers face nowadays. Different parenting styles have emerged that place greater emphasis on giving more freedom to children, and equating love and trust to establishing an equal-terms friendship.

And although all that may sound nice, the truth is that positive parenting is all about being the parent our children need, and not the friend they want. After all, friends come and go, and they have a specific role in the lives of our children. But the impact that we have as parents is central to their development into responsible, empathetic and productive adults.

In this article, we examine key points that will help you determine why it’s not healthy to mix the roles of friend and parent, and why it’s important to strengthen your position of authority without sacrificing your child's trust in you. 

1. Uphold your authority
Having rules and boundaries help kids feel secure and teaches them how to tell right from wrong. Simply put, that's not something their best friend will be able to provide in most cases. That's the role of a parent and your children need you to fulfill that role. If you're trying too hard to be your child's friend, then it's very likely that you aren't establishing enough rules, which may lead to waywardness or insecurity. Parenting means exercising authority, and although that may sometimes lead your children to complain that you're the worse parent ever, the truth is that it will provide the solid base they need to steer their lives in the right direction. 

2. Don't overburden them
Parents often make the mistake of turning their child into their confidante, which in turn heaps unnecessary pressure on kids who simply lack the level of maturity needed to process or understand grownup problems. A study published in 2002 by the Journal of Child and Family Studies found that divorced mothers who shared personal information with their daughters - such as financial shortcomings or negative thoughts about their former spouse - didn't strengthen the mother-daughter bond. On the contrary, it generated psychological distress for the girls. While it should be considered prudent to be as open as possible with your kids about everyday topics, don't lose sight of the fact that the best confidantes for adults are other adults. Children already have to deal with enough stress and anxiety as part of growing up. 

3. Allow them to grow and branch out
A key part of growing up is going through a process known as individuation, which basically means that kids gradually reduce their dependency on their parents. It's common for kids to begin developing a separate identity during this process and to reject spending time with their parents. A 2015 study published in The Journal of Early Adolescence concluded that not allowing kids to experience individuation leads to negative consequences. Teens who don't develop a healthy sense of self are likely to struggle with mental health issues in their adult life, aside from suffering from a lack of self-awareness and self-esteem. It is therefore crucial to be supportive of their inherent need to grow distant, while you continue to parent them and provide guidance.

4. Refrain from involving your personal history
It’s not uncommon for parents to overcompensate for problems they remember from their own childhood. For instance, if the parent grew up in a household where his or her emotional needs weren't being met, they may feel compelled to be a friend to their child instead of an authority figure. Psychologists warn that this tendency creates an unhealthy form of parenting. By trying to solve the problems of your past by seeking to be your child's friend, you're only undermining your own authority. Moreover, you're not allowing your child to choose whether he or she wants to be your friend. It's completely healthy and normal for children to not want to befriend their parents, and even healthier if they understand that parents are there to guide them. 

5. Be ready to adapt and evolve
When it comes to childrearing and friendship, most parents realize that they must adapt their parenting style to fit the individual needs of their children. And as they grow older, so too will the relationship grow. Their maturity will allow you to involve them in important decisions and to share activities more akin to what friends would enjoy. But above all, the key is to have a responsible relationship with your child so that he or she will become a responsible adult. And that's effective parenting.

For more guidance on helping your child develop into healthy adults, what skills to sharpen and what pitfalls to avoid, sign up for one of The Children's Trust Parent Workshops. The workshops are free, held in three languages (English, Spanish and Haitian Creole) and take place throughout the county. They are also a great opportunity to share your experiences with other parents.