Your Child Is Not Your Friend: How To Handle Your Relationship With Your Teen

Aug 22, 2016

Believe it or not, according to family historian Stephanie Coontz, the idea that parents and kids would even want to be friends is a relatively new idea, one that emerged along with “more democratic child-rearing practices” in the mid-20th century.

There is a yearn by many modern parents to be “liked” by their teens. Truth is, many of us ache for the days when they told us all of their problems, wanted to hang out with us for hours at a time and thought we were the epitome of “cool”. After all, once they hit the dreaded teen years, being BFFs would make things so much easier, right? Well, as unfortunate as it may be, nowhere in the definition of ‘parent’ is the word ‘friend’ or for that matter, the word ‘easy’. And in reality, being a friend to your teen just makes life harder for you both.

Our job as parents is to prepare our children for life. To be able to talk with our children about real issues, with the intention of teaching them life skills so they, and we, will feel confident that when they go out on their own, they will be best able to make the safest and smartest choices. “Friends” do not have that type of relationship; active parents do.

Read on for important and helpful ways on handling your relationship with your teen…without trying to be their best friend.

  1. Role Of A Parent

    A parent’s job is to protect, guide and teach. “I think there are elements of friendship. Parent-child relationships can be warm, accepting, responsive, trusting,” agrees Judith Smetana, a psychology professor at the University of Rochester who studies child development. “But at some point, the buck stops with the parents,” she says. “Making sure your child stays safe and out of trouble — sometimes that means pulling rank, saying something’s not acceptable, in a way a friend probably wouldn’t or couldn’t do.”

    As a mom, we must model kind behavior, and provide consistency in a child’s life so a child can feel safe and comfortable. And a large part of that teaching involves demonstrating good judgment and making smart decisions. Kids need to learn how to make the right choices in life. And the place they learn it best (or worst) is in the home.  The burning desire to be a “cool” parent can lead to big trouble. It can also make life more challenging for the child. A parent who desires to be a friend to their child is going to have a much harder time holding a child accountable, while simultaneously and inadvertently making it more difficult for the child to behave in a cooperative, responsible and respectful manner.

  2. Don’t Confide In Your Teen

    One aspect of the parent-child relationship that is a recipe for disaster is the “friend-confidante” role.

    “Even when we are older, we want to see our parents as people who are capable, strong, reliable, confident, and who will always be there. As children of whatever age, we want to know we can, in a pinch, go to our parents — count on their wisdom, and depend on their honor – comments Dr. Gerald Stein, a specialist with over 25 years experience in the private practice of clinical psychology.

    Parents are supposed to be seen as strong pillars to their kids, not as people that need advice. Discuss adult matters and issues with another adult of the same age, or even better still, with your partner. When you turn to your children for consolation or words of wisdom, they will begin to see you as fragile and delicate, and worse, they’ll feel the need to take on the responsibility of propping you up emotionally. That is not their job and it adds a responsibility that they may be too young to handle.

  3. Your Child is Not Your Equal

    It’s important to remember that parents and kids are not equals – and we shouldn’t want them to be! Kids by nature need instant gratification and react with emotion when their needs are not instantly met. When told they need to do their homework instead of playing a video game because you’re asking them to do something or holding them accountable, you become the enemy. If a child never hears “no” and behavioral expectations are unclear, how is she going to handle herself in the classroom, the workplace or in society – places where rules exist? Parents who want to be seen as their child’s peer or buddy, and not as the rule-enforcing parent aren’t doing their kid any favors, and are giving mixed messages. No one is suggesting that you can’t hang out and have fun with your child or teen, but the roles should never be confused.

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