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A recent interview in the States sent waves of both support and angst among parents around the world. Kris Kardashian did an interview in which she firmly claims her choice and rightness in doing so; to being friends with her children.
Was it just a publicity stunt? A spin off? Will Kris’s next book be one on parenting?
Look in any bookshop or library, and you will find that almost every parenting author passionately exclaims through their written word (and potentially in interviews, podcasts, shows…) how there’s a line between being a friend and being a parent, and as a parent you never cross it. The statement of ‘you can’t be friends with your children’ has rung true in hundreds of parenting books; but you know, I’m still not convinced that this is correct.
I understand where the concept comes from – as a parent, you must have a certain authority when parenting your teens; as a friend, you’re all equal. But here’s where I get confused. Take my life for example. Say I’m out with my friends – some of us are drinking, some of us aren’t because of beliefs, or because we’re sober driving, or have work in the morning. One person has just that little bit too much and is starting to make a bit of a mess of things. Someone, if not a number of people will ask them to slow down; to get some food; to take them home. Are we all equal in this situation? Sure, we’re all the same age, we’re looking out for each other, but at that precise moment, at least one person is exercising a certain degree of authority over someone who may have other plans, in this case it’s to keep drinking. Now, can the same rule apply to parenting?
A parent is somewhat an intimidating figure in a teen’s life. Out of the approximately 1800 teenagers I’ve interviewed all around the world for my research for both of my books, a crazy statistic of what they all agreed about was putting one or both of their parents into their top 3 role models list. Over 90% of teens I’ve interviewed around the entire world name at least one of their parents as a major role model in their life! I think teenagers are a little intimidated by their parents; by the weight their influence has over them, by how perfect they seem in their actions and decisions (sometimes it only lasts up to a certain age), and of course, as teenagers turn into adults, parents are usually a safe sounding board for their ideas and problems. It’s just the way it works.
Now back to being friends. How can a parent say they are not friends with their teens? How is it that parents for some reason feel like they cannot be equal, but rather be an authority over their teen’s life? Because that’s what you’re basically saying if you don’t believe you can be friends with them. You’re saying that you don’t have trust in them; that they need you to babysit them and their responsibilities.
Without trying to sound controversial, I will always argue that the key to getting a better relationship with your teenager is to become their friend. Become their friend with the same relationship you have with your friends. Because they are not a child anymore, there should be more two-way communication; they should be able to trust you to talk about their problems and successes, and in return, perhaps you could be a good sounding board for them as well; if you have a problem and they pick up on it, why can’t you be equal with them and talk to them; get their advice, maybe even ideas.
A parent must exercise their authority, yes, but is this not the exact same authority every teenager comes across in their own group of friends? There will be times when teenagers collectively make mistakes, but there is usually at least one person who will take the reigns in a situation and talk some sense into the group. The great thing is that the next day, they will still be friends. So is this not something you could do too?
Try it; if you have teenage children, or especially if you’re a grandparent, try being friends with the teen in your life; try to be equal to them instead of keeping your intimidating authority figure over them. Do it as an experiment for a week and see what happens.
I wish you every success in the journey – I believe living in this transparent world where a teenager’s Facebook Page can tell you more about them than they may in person, it’s time to re-think how parenting is tackled as a technique. Parents are becoming friends with their teenagers on Facebook, so let’s see if we can make the same transition in real life.