What’s Going On?
In the last few decades parents have been increasingly attempting to become “friends” with their children. Parents struggle to be cool and relevant to their kids and compete with tons of outside forces that lure them in like bees to honey: cell phones, television, the internet and their kids’ peer group. In this battle for attention, parents may feel like they are left with no option but to relate to their kids on their own level. They dress like their kids, talk like their kids and some even behave like their kids. That’s a lot of power to willingly pass on to a child – and kids know it.
The Balance of Power
Kids are extremely perceptive. I think they are just hard-wired like that. Kids know when they can push the envelope a little further and who they can push those limits with. Children will naturally want to obtain more and more power and will continue to try as long as no one is stopping them. Although they know how to obtain the power, they probably don’t know how to use it constructively – most likely they will use it in their own self-interest. A friend would probably egg them on and encourage them to take as much as they can get. A parent will (hopefully) set limits. Who will be there to pull in the reins if the parent is their friend? The playing field between a parent and child is not a level one – it is not meant to be that way. It could be that it becomes more level as children mature but parents are the ones with the authority and they should embrace that.
Parent vs. Friend
The responsibility of a parent is to provide guidelines and boundaries for how a child should behave. However wide or narrow these boundaries are, is up to the parent to decide. When the boundaries are too narrow kids are prone to step “out of bounds” more frequently since there is little room for error. On the other hand, when the boundaries are set too wide, kids may feel there are no rules and seem to run wild. This could lead to confusion when they stand corrected. When these boundaries are blurred by a parent being too much of a friend, a child may eventually lose respect for them or not take them seriously. (It’s like when a boss is also a friend. A conflict of interest will surely arise when that boss needs to reprimand / redirect the friend).
Children need space from their parents to discover their own identities and explore the world on their own. Of course, they will make mistakes (probably with their friends in toe) but that is where mom or dad can rise to the occasion afterward and help the child discover the learning experience behind the pitfall – in a loving way. If the parent is making these mistakes along with their child, who will rise to the occasion? How can a parent switch gears from “friend-mode” to “parent-in-charge?”
Parents Step Up to the Plate!
Ultimately, the object is to find a happy medium where children can feel safe talking about difficult topics while also feeling secure in the advice being given to them. Kids need to have their parent be their pillar of strength and beacon for guidance. They need to feel that someone is watching out for them. And believe it or not, even when they argue and complain that they don’t want anyone telling them what to do or how to behave – in the end they will appreciate it.
Kids will always have plenty of opportunities to make friends but get only one chance to have parents. Take advantage of this beautiful opportunity!