We Know: Why Some Parents Try to Be Friends of Their Teenagers Instead of Parents
A few helpful hints on parenting from former middle school teacher and children's writer Molly Hersage.

Why Are Some Parents drawn to the Idea of Being Their Child’s Friend?

Parents who choose to act more as friends to their teenage children, than as parents, fall under one of three categories:

  1. Predisposed Parents- Parents who already possess vacation tendencies (see "Three Types of Parents") and become more determined to create a friendship, as their child reaches adolescence.
  2. Pushover Parents- Parents who are susceptible to the ‘just be cool myth’, an attitude encouraged by adolescents, that suggests once a child reaches adolescence parents make better friends than parents.
  3. Not My Problem Parents- Parents who believe that the arrival of a child’s adolescence indicates total adulthood and therefore, the end of parental participation.

Predisposed Parents

Predisposed parents are those individuals who do not provide an example of guidance and maturity in their child’s life. They may have too many other demands for their attention already present in their lives, they may fail to prioritize their child as the most important responsibility in their lives, they may fear rejection by their child if they reprimand, set expectations, or make demands on her or their insecurity can lead them to question their qualifications as a parent. Predisposed parents spend little time, if any, articulating expectations or creating boundaries (see "How to Set Boundaries with Your Teenager") for their children. They seek to avoid situations in which they have to voice an opinion, enforce an established boundary, or require respect. Teenagers raised by predisposed parents are often left to determine and create boundaries of their own. As a result, they may not have a clear sense of healthy, versus hurtful behavior. They may rely on peers or other adults to advise them in their important life choices.

Pushover Parents

Pushover parents are susceptible to the misconception that children no longer need parents once they reach adolescence. They fear exercising their parental rights and do not wish to be role models to their children. Instead, they give into the, ‘just be cool myth’, created and enforced by teenagers everywhere, that claims adolescents can figure life out for themselves. A child’s persuasion often becomes the overriding excuse for pushover parents to adopt a hands-off approach to parenting. Teenagers can seem incredibly qualified and convincing in their appeals to be independent of adult control. They may say, “Don’t worry mom, I know what I’m doing,” or “Will you just trust me.” Pushover parents believe in the merit of this claim, even if it goes against their natural instinct or means altering an existing relationship with their child. Pushover parents would rather their children view them as ‘cool’ than to be a participatory parent.

Not My Problem Parents

While not-my-problem parents may have been aloof or non-participatory in the past, it is when their child becomes a teenager that they stop seeking to be involved altogether. The rationale behind this choice is that teenagers have the skills and knowledge to act independently. Parents also become not-my-problem parents, when they discover their child has made choices or exhibited behavior that is not to their liking. Not-my-problem parents prefer to distance themselves from their child’s actions. Not my problems parents can cause a great deal of damage to a child who has made a bad choice. By disregarding their child’s actions, they make themselves unavailable for guidance about the future. Not-my-problem parents, rarely offer an opinion about their child’s behaviors, decisions or actions. When their child experiences danger, heartache or consequences for his choices, not-my-problem parents try to avoid responsibility. In their minds everything that happened to their child was his choice. While this type of parenting may be initially well received by a teenager who seeks independence, it can cause insurmountable damage to a developing young person in the long-term.

Why be a Parent rather than a Friend?

Why shouldn’t you give your child complete autonomy? After all, he is now making independent choices about his friends, his clothes, the books he reads, and movies he sees. Isn’t he mature enough to make his own choices about the important stuff too? Shouldn’t he decide what parties to attend and what time he should be home at night? The answer is no! As your child’s parent, you can offer him valuable advice and guidance, about healthy choices he can make, as he moves through adolescence and until he reaches adulthood.

For More information of how to be a healthy parent see "How to Be a Healthy Parent for Your Teenager."

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