The Importance of Being a Parent, Not a Friend

The Journal of Family Psychology, published a report in January of 2008, in regard to the importance of being a parent- not a friend to your children.The study involved 1,000, in tact (meaning not divorced) families whose behaviors with their pre-teen and teen children was monitored for three months.In the study, it showed that many parents today have become involved in a sort of parenting that is dubbed parentification by the psychological world.Parentification is the kind of parenting where the boundaries between parent and child are muddied, and parents seem to strive to form amicable ‘friendships’ with their children while they are parenting.

The problem was found that in the household where parents wanted to be friends AND parents with their children, it was the children whose future outlook way stymied.Kids whose parents tried to ‘get down on their level,’ and be involved in activities and forms of socialization that are generally marked for ‘peers,’ (meaning people of the same age), the teens regarded their parents as less warm, and often felt a stronghold that disabled autonomy on the part of the child.The reason is fairly simple.When parents try to be their children’s friend – kids begin feeling responsible for meeting the emotional needs of the parents, which is not the way the family structure is designed to be.Teens in homes where parentification was evident felt pressured to oblige their parent’s needs of companionship and attention, and often did so in lieu of their own needs and desires.

As adults, growing up with parents who are ‘best friends,’ grown children become, even while successful become less able to make independent decisions.They also feel strong ties to their parents that make them unable to partake in opportunities that they feel may not work out well for mom and dad.IN other words, should they be offered a chance at a big dream job promotion – few would be willing to take the job if it meant moving away from their parents.

The truth is that children should always be encouraged to have age appropriate friends.Parents should be the confidants for their children and should be encouraged to provide companionship when the teen desires it.Not the other way around.This doesn’t mean that parents and children cannot partake in enjoyable activities together, or that parents shouldn’t be willing to take a dive into their teen’s world in order to have some bonding time.However, it does mean that parents should always keep the boundaries between parent and children in place, even while they are enjoying time with their kids.

In earlier generations, the difference between parent and child was definitely more clear-cut.Whereas today it would be nothing to see a parent and child exchanging celebratory high fives, or even using curse words in one another’s presence – decades ago this was not the case. It may seem that parenting was shrewder or even colder, but nothing could likely be further from the truth.The family unit has changed so much in the past two decades, and parents are spending less time with their childrenthan ever before which seems to evolve in a form of guilt reaction parenting that makes mom and dad want to ‘be friends’ with their child.The bottom line is that one of the most prevalent parenting fears is that a child will grow up and not ‘like’ their parents.So parents do as much as possible to ensure that they offer structure, and friendship.

This bridge between structure and friendship however is difficult to span, especially when parents are responsible for instilling values and discipline to children.Children learn quickly that they can manipulate mom and dad with guilt, and parents begin to succumb to this guilt by NOT providing the structure and discipline that quite frankly, kids NEED and crave, in order to become successful adults.

In the general course of familial evolution, as teens become adults and have families of their own – there is generally more room for parents to become their child’s friends.And this is largely accepted as okay.However, there have been studies that show females are especially sensitive to their mother’s opinions, even as adults, and that extremely close mother-daughter relationships can often negatively impact the daughter’s sense of independence and future success.

With all the research and studies, the truth is that parents will likely always be desperate to find a place in their teen’s life where they fit in.This is much more about a parent’s fear of losing their identity as ‘mom and dad,’ and about having their child ‘like’ them than it is about love and child rearing.Perhaps the trick is balance.While it is important (and cool) for parents today to be hip to the lingo and culture of their child’s generation, they shouldn’t try to necessarily ‘fit in,’ to it.They shouldn’t strive to be their child’s best friend nor should they seek out companionship from their child in lieu of a parents own peers.

It is the normal course in the relationship of parent and child for the child to at some point, not particularly like mom and dad.If your teen doesn’t like you, and is dead set on disagreeing with you at nearly every fork in the road, chances are you are simply doing your job when it comes to raising your child.Sure, it hurts.And it would be nice to have the types of romanticized parent teen relationships that motion pictures are made of.But giving up the ideal of this façade, ensures that your child will not only become a responsible and successful adult – but will also come back one day and thank you for making all those hard, tough love decisions that helped them to thrive.



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