I was watching a really interesting news article on TV a little while ago. It was a headmaster who has written about why parents should not be their child’s ‘friend’. He had this story to share:
One of his teachers had been contacted by a parent. The parent asked the teacher if he would have a word with his eight-year old son about the amount of screen time he was having. The parent asked whether the teacher would tell his son that he needed to cut down on the time he was playing with his iPad. The parent explained that every mealtime, his son would play games on the iPad and this meant that his grandmother, who lived with them, would have to spoon feed him so that he ate (his hands were busy on the controls of the game). The teacher listened, then said “Why don’t YOU speak to your son about this?” The father replied “Oh, I couldn’t do that. We’re best friends, it might spoil our relationship.”
OK – that’s extreme. But it got me thinking. I’ve taught a lot of children where their behaviour was a barrier to their learning. Where parents seemed unable to set boundaries – were they unable, or were some just unwilling?
We all know people who want to be the ‘cool’ mum or dad – you’ll meet this more as your children get older, especially when they’re teenagers! When my children were teenagers some of them used to like going to certain friend’s houses – because they could stay up late, play any video game, have unlimited time on laptops/phones, without many rules or supervision. It made parenting quite difficult because it meant we were always the ones saying “No”, or “You can go but …”
Were my parents my friend? No, they weren’t. They showed me love and fun, we laughed together, we did loads of stuff together – but they never tried to be my friend, at least until I became an adult.
Why do I think that was right? Because I believe that a parent is there to teach, protect and guide. A parent is there to model good decision-making, model kind behaviour, to keep the family safe, and to provide consistency in their child’s life. This means the child can feel safe and be able to handle life’s challenges.
So – a parent needs to be the person who sets the expectations for behaviour, the rules and the boundaries. But a parent should also be the one person a child feels they can talk to about anything, feels safe with, feels listened to, and trusts. It’s a fine line and it’s a huge responsibility, but if we get it right, this is how an open relationship between parent and child is established. And when a child breaks the rules, the boundaries, and those expectations (as they will do, frequently – because it’s how they learn), then it’s the job of the parent to give the child consequences for those behaviours, and to use the experience as a learning opportunity.
If we are a ‘friend’ then little of that will happen. There might be lots of fun, but there will be little teaching and little learning as a result. It’s our job as parents to prepare our children for their future, for all life brings them. So that they, and we, will feel confident that when they go out on their own, they will best be able to make the safest and wisest choices.
I could go on and on… not everyone will agree with me I know. I would just like to end with this. Be a parent to your child, because that is what they need. Hope to be a friend to your grown-up sons and daughters, because that is what they want.
****If you want to read these blogs first, before they’re published here – join my ‘Keep Our Kids Strong & Safe’ Facebook Group. All about teaching resilience and emotional webbing to our young children.