Should parents be their teen's friend?

Exploring Teens written debate - Series #1, debate #1

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Before we begin, I ask for consideration of the following:

  • Please appreciate that these writers are not professional writers.  They are part of the Exploring Teens audience and have volunteered to write one side of this debate.
     
  • These debates show that every area of parenting has people who will passionately see it from completely opposite perspectives. Everyone’s experience is shaped by the lens of their own experience.  It’s unlikely there is ever a ‘right’ or a ‘wrong’ position.
     
  • Reading through the debates, I am in awe as to how much thought people put into parenting.  We often beat ourselves up, but I can't see any inadquacies here.  All I see is committed and passionate people wanting to do their very best for the teens in their care.

 

The case AGAINST being your teen's friend

 

I am a parent.  I am not a friend, pal, mate or bff to my teenagers. I am a parent.

That means there are times when I will say no and times when my teen will think I am the worst parent on earth and probably hate me. I can take that.

As a parent I am responsible for raising my kids to be decent human beings who treat themselves and others with respect and tolerance.

I love my kids with all my heart and only want the best for them so I will watch over them with the surveillance of an Intelligence agency. I will track them like a bloodhound. I will check their phone randomly and without notice. I will detect illicit substances as would a customs officer. I will scrutinise love interests and I will check homework is done and to the best of their ability. I will call the parents of their friends to check their plans and impose curfews.

This is done from a place of love and the need to help my teenagers see that I care enough to know what they are doing and where they are doing it. I’m fifty and they are teenagers. I am the frontal brain lobe that they don’t yet have. I’ve had life experiences that can detect the potential danger in some of their actions and provide that safety net when they need it.

In our house there are rules. I’m sure they don’t like some of these but they are there because it is my job to give my child that secure and safe environment in which they are loved, cared for and supported. I want to provide a place they want to be and know they are forever welcomed.

They don’t need to, and are not yet mature enough, to be burdened with the problems, trials and tribulations of my fifty year old personal, often chaotic and overly busy adult world. That’s partly why I have friends my own age.  People who are there for me and can relate to the same issues I have. It’s not my children’s job to provide that empathetic ear or to be my counsellor. They need friends of their own age.

The word friend to me indicates people who are on an equal footing but that would do my children a disservice, I can give them much more than that. I am there for them whenever they need me. As a parent I will listen without judgement and empathise; not as a buddy though who might gossip, point fingers, coax or otherwise add unnecessary fuel to a situation. A buddy might also bend rules or disrespect them.  A parent however, will instead teach a child how to deal with friends who do this. An essential skill for life.

If we are friends with our teens these lines become blurred. Rules are broken. Advantages taken. Teens need the assurance of consistent boundaries and an enforcer of those - a caring parent.

My kids of course, have the right to argue with me, discuss the rules and even disagree with them. As the parent, I have the strength to listen, explain and make an informed change if necessary. I also have the strength to laugh at myself, say sorry when I am wrong and say I love you often, even when the chips are down and we’re at loggerheads.

 My kids know I am there for them unconditionally and will tolerate their moods galore. They know I love them for who they are and will do so no matter how much we both screw up at times.

I want my children to feel the security and comfort of having a parent who will say the hard things that sometimes need to be said, to coach them in life’s trials, to refuse a late night out, to set those curfews, check in with their teachers at school and with their friends’ parents. To set that safe and firm foundation is my job as a caring parent.

“Do you see me as a friend?” I asked my 14 year old daughter before writing this.

She gave me that ‘are you bonkers’ look and said, “No. You are my mum ... and I love you.” She then gave me the biggest hug with that ‘toddler like’ twinkle in her eyes that melts my heart and I thought, ‘Yes I am better and more than just a friend. I am your mum and proud of it’. She has never found it difficult to talk about her dreams, ambitions or problems with me. We have been through some tough times. Indeed, all three of my kids know they can come to me whenever they need and talk about whatever is on their mind without being judged or betrayed (even if I have to bite my tongue for a while on occasion). They know I will listen, offer advice only if asked and help to make them feel better.

I hope that by being a caring parent rather than a friend to my children I am setting the boundaries, expectations and rules for the behaviours that will see my children become confident and happy adults. Adults who are comfortable with who they are as individuals, will respect and tolerate others and one day when they are those adults, I hope then they will be my friends.

For now, I am a caring parent and not a friend to my children.

 

Author bio: I can’t tell anyone how to be the perfect parent. I'm not an academic, counsellor or psychologist.  I am instead as ex-advertising executive, school teacher turned yoga teacher, house manager and the mother of three teenagers.   A constant student in the stages of life, i feel that learning from mistakes and imperfect parenting are a guide to suriving this hilarious whirlwind of teenagedom.



The case FOR being your teen's friend

 

Those of us old enough to have a teenager, are probably old enough to remember the US TV series  “Gilmore Girls.” The story of the fast talking, ice cream and pizza loving Lorelai and Rory Gilmore whose mother / daughter relationship was phenomenally close – the best of friends.    Their ‘friendship first’ relationship saw them through life’s ups and downs and although fictional, demonstrated that yes, parents can be and should be a friend to their teens.

Friendship is the crux of any good relationship and in life, a parent’s relationship with their child is often the child’s first ever experience of friendship.  This dynamic need not change upon entering the teenage years.  Our children are looking to us to role model friendship so they can in turn be a good friend to others.  It is our role to show them how to be kind, how to care for and nurture others.  Not every relationship between mothers, daughters, fathers and sons has to be filled with arguments about boyfriends and girlfriends, chores, curfews and homework.  Even when we discuss the big issues and set our parental rules and boundaries for our teens, can’t we remain friends with them as well?

There are many advantages to being a friend to our teens.  It has been shown that teenage boys who are close to their Mum’s are less likely to engage in risky behaviours.  Good parental communication between parents and their teens can reduce the influence of negative peer group pressure.  In today’s world we see many teens crying out for parental approval. Isn’t the ultimate validation to your teen to show them that you value them as a friend?

Our family life sees us watching television, listening to music, playing board games and card games.  We laugh at the same memes and Youtube clips.  Our shared common interests and time spent together constitute friendship.  I can discuss the plot lines of “Riverdale” or what I think is the best Snapchat filter with my sixteen year old daughter.  I can also delve through a pile of LEGO looking for the exact grey 8 x 2 block my thirteen year old son is after whilst keeping up companionable banter about the act of cheating by Australian cricketers.  Soon my teens will both be adults and I feel like my time is running out to have such discussions.  To ponder whether Dangerfield is the best store ever for vintage style dressing and to wonder whether purchasing Buddy Franklin is a good AFL Supercoach move.  With their toddler years gone in the blink of an eye, I would be crazy not to befriend these two charming teens standing taller than I do, whilst they are still happy to hear my opinion and laugh at my jokes and hashtags.  In our house this constitutes the bonds of friendship and it runs warm and deep through our interactions.

Our friendship is a “safe space,” non-judgemental and welcoming where they can discuss or declare their thoughts and feelings on any issue.  Likewise, they sometimes choose to listen to my radio station, enjoy musical theatre shows with me and even exercise with me, enjoying and reciprocating the hand of friendship that I have offered to them.

In this social media dependant world, sixty percent of Australians use Facebook with a majority of parent users requesting that their children be their Facebook friend.  On average, Australian teens have at least two social media accounts.  I see this as two more opportunities to befriend your teen.  Being an online friend to your teen is thought to improve their behaviour on the world wide web.   Parents can get more information about their teenager’s interests, feelings and whereabouts by being an online friend.  To ensure cyber safety, many organisations like the Office of the e-safety Commissioner of Australia actually recommend that parents be online friends of their children.

In this age of busyness, where most of us rush around after our teens as their personal taxi driver, chef, laundry maid and bank, there needs to be a mutual respectful return of both feelings and actions from our teens, thus I think it is important for parents to be friends with their teens in both the real world and the cyber world.  Our children are teenagers for seven short years which will pass us by ever so quickly.  I can’t think of any better friends than my two teens to laugh with, to cry with, to watch Netflix with, catching re-runs of “Gilmore Girls” whilst eating pizza and ice cream. 

 

Author bio: I work in a Secondary School surrounded by teens and I have a 16 year old sassy, eye rolling miss and a sporty, grubby, carefree lad of 13.


 

So now it's over to you guys!

We love would love to know which side of the debate you sit on.  

NEXT DEBATE IN SERIES #1 ----> Should teens have a part time job?

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