Be a Parent, not a Friend

Many parents wish to become their children's friends. However, at times you need to be just a parent, not a friend. Here's why.

By Gemmarie Venkataramani

Be a Parent, not a Friend

Situation #1: Your daughter wants to go to a beach party with her friends. You are fully aware that there will be no parental supervision and that there will be free-flowing alcohol and cigarettes at the party. Refusing her would mean one week of cold treatment from her. But by giving her the permission to go, you become the coolest mom around.

Situation #2: First he wants an MP3 player, then a PS3. A touch-phone is next, and now he is asking for an iPad. Your son has an ever-extending gadget requirement every week. Say ‘no’ and he will blame you for putting him behind his generation. Say ‘yes’ and you are the best dad ever.

Situation #3: Forget about his final exams, he is not even interested in doing his homework. For him, life revolves around friends and cricket. How do you manage this?

Parents are often left at a crossroads and they would love an easy solution. The easy way would be to give in completely, become a friend and get rewarded with titles like - ‘Cool Guy’,

‘Fun Mom’!

Many parents do swear by friendship with their teenagers. “This is the only way I can reach out to my teen and understand her feelings. When I go on the ‘parent mode’, she gets into a shell”, says Sudha Anantharaman of her 15-year-old daughter. Sudha does not like to see her daughter appearing remote and detached from her.

Many parents try to achieve a balance between friendship and parenting.

Switching Gear

Thirty-six-year-old Lavanya Rao, a mother of an 18-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy, understands her children’s behaviour and emotions. This helps her relate to them more as a friend. Lavanya feels that being a friend to them gives her an assurance that she knows what is happening to them. “We go out a lot together – eating out, watching movies, shopping, visiting relatives and friends”, she says. Still, she keeps a tab on the children where house rules and school matters are concerned. “I have to be tough when needed”, she stresses.

Cool parents

“We have a lot of fun with our children. We play on the beach, watch movies, play board games, eat out, go to the mall or just talk and goof around with each other”, says IT professional N Kumar, father of 12-year-old Saina and 14-year-old Ranvir. “I do not see anything wrong with being a cool parent as long as we do not lose respect and authority over them”, explains Kumar.

Parenting is not a popularity contest

“Some parents choose the role of friendship, for fear of their children hating them. “Parenting is not a popularity contest”, says Kumar. “The role of parents is crucial to children as they grow. They pass through stages where the guidance of an adult is essential. Not being there at those times would be doing the disservice to your children”, he says.

Be friendly, not a friend

Parents need to draw the line when it comes to their relationship with their children. Arundhati Swamy, a Chennai counsellor, asserts that being a friend to your child automatically changes the equation. “Be friendly. Not a friend!” she says. Being friendly with your child enhances the relationship. The child would find it easier to approach the parent and freely share some of the things that she would otherwise keep to herself. “As a friend, a child would think that she can take liberties with her parents. When children do so, parents get upset and say that their children do not respect them. There lies the problem”, she explains.

Mala Natarajan is quite friendly with her sons, 21-year-old Anirudh and 14-year-old Pradyumna. She likes spending time with them. They would watch television together and discuss topics of common interests. Discipline is one aspect where the line is clearly drawn, particularly when it comes to cleaning their rooms, going out with friends or studying. “I do not hear them grumble when I start talking rules”, she says.

Friendship with a Purpose

Seethalakshmi Ram, who works as Operations Head for a publication, proudly says that she is very close to her teenage daughters. In their relationship, everything is discussed openly. “I established a ‘friendship with a purpose’ relationship from the time they were small. I have been open with them, sharing my emotions and problems. We have established a comfort level wherein they share their feelings and difficult situations with me.” This does not mean that the thin line between parenting and being a friend is totally dissolved. “They know their limits and respect my rules”, she adds.

Parental authority comes in handy

When teenagers experience peer pressure that they are not comfortable with, they happily and deliberately use their ‘strict’ mom or dad as an excuse to get out of that situation. At the same time, they do not get thrown out of their friends’ circle. Says Gita Krishnan, mother of two children “ My teenage son has done this. I do not mind if his friends think of me as the `Uncoolest’ of mothers!

Countless friends, only one set of parents

Take a look at your teen’s Facebook page and see how many connections she has. You will also be amazed at how many friends are following her tweets on Twitter. Today’s teenagers have enough friends to keep them company. They have only one set of parents. They need an authority figure that would tell them what is right or wrong and discuss with them the pros and cons of decisions before making them. They need someone who can shelter them from the harsh realities outside the home.

Betsy Brown Braun, author and specialist in child development and behaviour says, “Every time I hear a parent brag that her child is her best friend, I cringe and think, ‘Well, that’s too bad’. The job description of a parent is mighty long – nurturer, teacher, advisor, consultant, guide, spotter, disciplinarian, consoler, cheerleader. But I am quite sure ‘friend’ is not merited in the list”. After all, your child has enough friends, and so do you! 

Related video: The style of parenting you choose determines your child's behaviour, says Dr Nandini Mundkur of Totsguide.