Using the same social media networks, watching the same television shows and listening to the same music, parents and their teen children are shrinking the generational gap. But boundaries are also being blurred. Working at a high school, I see it all the time. Parents want their children to be their best friends. Where is the line between friends and parent?
The journey through adolescence means achieving a sense of self and individualization. Parents need to be there for their children as role models and guides while their children are sorting through this process. A friendship based on reciprocity that provides equal support to both parties. However, just because your kids are getting to an age where they can hold down a job, drive a car, and be more independent doesn’t mean that your parenting time is over. This is actually when your kids will need a parent the most. Some kids this age do show a lot of maturity, but most of them are still growing physically, emotionally, ethically, morally and intellectually.
You Are the Parent
The most important rule to remember is you are always the parent. Parents have different reasons for wanting their children to be best friends with them. Maybe you feel your child will trust you more or tell you more if you’re their friend. Some parents feel that they didn’t have a close relationship with their own parents and they don’t want that for their children and they overcompensate. You are not at the same maturity level, social level or emotional level as your teenager.
A 40-year-old looking for relationship advice should look toward another 40- year-old or a 35-year-old, not a 17-year-old. If this is the case, who is benefiting from this relationship?
Just the other day, I saw a parent call their teenage son at school during class time to discuss the movie they were going to see that night. The student didn’t answer and the parent became upset. The parent is aware that cell phone use is not allowed in the classroom. The parent re-dialed the student and the student answered. The student had their phone taken away by the teacher per school policy. The parent then became upset with the school for taking away the child’s cell phone and demanded to have it returned to the student.
Parents have a right to think a rule is ridiculous. However, instead of saying the teacher is wrong for taking away your phone and the rule is dumb, practice good parenting by showing your children that rules and respect are important. Otherwise, you’re telling your child is it’s OK to break the rules and it’s OK to be disrespectful.
Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries. When I work with teens and their families, the best results are usually achieved when parents listen like a friend but use parental practices when they respond, provide clear expectations, and follow through. Also, get involved when you are being asked to get involved. Then guide your child through the problem-solving process. Don’t just go in and fix the problem.
It is OK to have an open and honest relationship with your teenager, but you don’t have to share everything. Limits will not push your child away. It is easier to set those limits early on. But you can still make that change even if you have already shared too much. Start by saying that although you have enjoyed the conversations the two of you have shared, from now on you are going to talk to your own peers about those issues because you feel it’s hurting your relationship.
Parenting is the hardest job one will ever have to do and it will be the most rewarding one as well. But a job it is. Like any job, there will be parts that are challenging and parts that you hate to do. It is a balance.