Why Being a Parent is Better than Being a Friend to Your Teen
There is a lot of debate about whether a parent should be a friend to their children. There are strong opinions on both sides of this debate, but in truth, there is a healthy balance between them. Parents should be spending quality time, having fun with their teens, and creating an environment of open communication. In this way, parents are “friends” to their child. However, parents can go too far in seeking a friendship with their teen. Here are 3 signs you are being too much of a friend and not enough of a parent:
Too Much Information
Many well-meaning parents, in their eagerness to create open communication, have crossed a boundary with their teens by sharing too much or inappropriate information. To be open and honest, these parents want to share their true opinions and their own difficulties with their child. Unfortunately, teens are not developmentally prepared for that role. Many adult problems are complex and too difficult for children to handle. Additionally, teens thrive on security, and if they feel like their parents are vulnerable, that security is shaken. They might feel that they need to be strong for their parent or that they are responsible for their parent’s emotions in some way. Ultimately, this type of dynamic makes teens feel like their parent is not in charge.
This problem can be especially pronounced in divorced families. Both parents will often try to be the child’s confidante – perhaps complaining about their ex-spouse – and the child gets stuck painfully in the middle. A parent should be a child’s confidante, but children should not be a parent’s confidante. In this way, you cannot be your child’s friend. Until your children are adults, you should always seek out other adults in which to confide.
If you are hesitant to discipline your child or worry about whether your child will still “like you” if you say or do something, you might be acting too much like a friend to your teen.
Children and teens really crave boundaries, limits and structure, and many times, despite their protests, teens are looking to their parents to set limits they can’t set for themselves. Our role as parents is to teach, coach, and give our teens consequences when they misbehave. Friends don’t do that. When you treat your teen like a friend, you’re telling them that they are your peer, and that their power is equal to yours, which undermines your authority.
Many modern-day parents want to be known as the “cool” parent. They give in to their kids’ demands and allow behavior that is not age appropriate. It can be more fun and comfortable to allow anything and have happy teens than to put your foot down and endure sulking. Unfortunately, this can create problems in the future. Studies show that teens with little or no limits are more likely to initiate power struggles with their parents and engage in risky behavior, such as crime, drugs, or sex.
The goal of adolescence is to develop independence so that teens are ready to take care of themselves as adults. This means it is an important developmental milestone for youth to begin creating a healthy separation from their parents. They will (and should) want to spend more time with friends, share less information with their parents, want more privacy, and express their own values and opinions that are different from their parents. Teens who do not take these separation steps during adolescence often struggle in adulthood. Parents who have become more of a friend than a parent to their teen often feel abandoned or hurt by this change in the relationship.
While it might seem ideal to be your teen’s friend, in actuality, your teen has lots of friends. They don’t have lots of parents, and parents play a more important role and have a longer-lasting relationship than any friend. It’s better to be a parent!
Don’t misunderstand – you should spend time with your teen and have fun together! You should enjoy friendly activities together! In fact, this type of quality time is crucial to your teen’s healthy development and self-esteem. The problem arises when you treat your teen as one of your friends – sharing too much information, failing to set limits and/or enforce them, worrying about whether your teen will “still like me” when you do certain behaviors, and feeling abandoned when your teen tries to develop independence.
Your teen truly desires a parent who values them, has their best interests at heart, but who also has authority over them. When your child becomes an adult, your relationship can transform into a more traditional friendship, but for the time being, be a great parent!