Updated: Mar 23
Parent or Friend? Which should I be? In my years of working with parents, I always hear this statement " I treat my child like a friend." This seems like a perfectly fine approach towards parenting. However, one will only panic when the child gets into trouble (with school rules or even with law) and to realize that the child does not listen to him/her anymore. But why? What's wrong with treating your child as though he/she is your friend? What about having clear distinct difference that you are a parent to him/her?
Truth be told, in Singapore's context, parenting for majority of us, is unable to run very far away from what Salvador Minuchin's Structural Family Therapy (SFT) describes. Every family has our unique structure, which determines the family's hierarchy and interaction. According to SFT, every family is broken into different sub-systems, and there should be clear boundary between each sub-system, as it will help to define roles/responsibilities/authority. Based on this simplified explanation of SFT, let's look at the pros and cons of such a "parent-child friendship".
Pros As we enter the digital age, we must admit that children spend more time on gadgets than ever before, and hence their social learning is much more dependent on online sources, rather than through social interaction. "Social Learning" has gotten ahead of education in terms of E-learning, as parents tend to keep the child occupied with a mobile device. In such a situation, the only way that parents can "connect" with their child, is to understand the social norms of the cyberworld, and approach the child with a common topic as bridge to them. Once established correctly, such relationship will create the opportunity to understand them their current experiences and thinking. Being a "friend", the child sees you as someone of the "equal social status", and hence will be very forthcoming in the sharing, as though he/she is talking to a very close buddy or BFF. Cons However, by doing this, you have indirectly "lowered" ourselves from the parental subsystems. The danger here that if not managed properly, you may be potentially reducing your authority over your child, or at least that is what he/she may internalize. Once that happens, you will find yourself having difficulty establishing rules, setting boundaries or trying to impart morals and values. My Thoughts Personally, I believe that it is impossible for counsellor / therapist to "prescribe" any methods for parenting. However, with regards to what I named as "parent-friend" style of parenting, I will suggest age-appropriateness. I recommend parents to be more directive, and to exert more control when the children are young. As the children grow older, that is when you give them more autonomy and space, transiting from "parent-child" to "parent-friend". This chronological process actually fit quite nicely to Erik Erikson's Developmental stages, as well as Family Life Cycle. Erikson explained that individuals have developmental stages to resolve, and the identity building tasks are at the adolescence ages. Similarly, Family Life Cycle explains that the teenagers will grow into young adults, "leave" the family and eventually form their own family. Hence, that is when parents should "let loose" their directive-ness, and eventually "let-go". In short, when your children are young, it is better to be clear and explicit to them, that you are in control. As they mature, involve them in decision making, and become their friend.