Should You Be Friends With Your Kids?

father and son playing video games

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The line—that one between being a parent and a friend—is often blurred these days especially as kids age. For years, parents were told that being an authoritative parent was the way to go, but with emergence of different parenting styles like yes parenting, attachment parenting, and free-range parenting, that line between being a parent and a friend is becoming less and less clear. So, what is the right answer? Should you be friends with your child?

Most experts agree that while parents can and should be friendly toward their kids as well as fun to hang out with, at the end of the day they still need to accept the role as parent and not as friend.

Kids need boundaries, rules, and guidance. A best friend is not going to tell them when they should go to bed, make sure they get their immunizations, or advise them on drinking, consent, and sex—those are roles of a parent and they need you in that role.

Risks of Being Your Child's Friend

Many parents think that if they are friends with their child that parenting will be easier—that their child will do what they want because they are friends. But in reality, trying to be your child's friend is confusing for a child. Boundaries and rules make kids feel safe, but if you are trying to be your child's friend it's likely you aren't giving them many rules or guidelines and this can create issues.

Loss of Authority

What's more, when parents lose their authority because they are now on the same level as their child, kids can become anxious and unsettled. They need reassurance from you that you love them, you are in control, and you will protect them. Trying to be a friend strips away that picture of you as protector and guardian and eliminates one of the most important support networks in their life.

Plus, giving up the authority, wisdom, and experience that comes with being a parent in order to be liked by your kids makes it difficult to raise healthy and competent kids that can handle frustration and disappointment.

In fact, research shows that the lack of structure can actually weaken the parent-child relationship as well as make kids feel more controlled rather than less so.

Instead, kids need parents to draw lines in the sand, say no to things, and offer advice. Yes, your child may get angry or upset and they may complain that you're the worst parent ever, but in the end you are doing what's best for them and setting limits where they need them.

Strained Parent-Child Relationships

Likewise, trying to be your child's friend can put unnecessary pressure on them—a pressure that they're not mature enough to handle. In fact, one study found that when divorced moms shared personal information with their daughters like financial details or negative thoughts about their ex-spouse, that it didn't bring the two closer. Instead, it caused psychological distress for the daughters.

How to Find a Balance

No parent wants to feel like a dictator. After all, you love and enjoy your kids and want to spend time with them. But that doesn't mean you have to give up on being a parent to accomplish that goal. There are ways to have friend-like experiences with your kids without sacrificing your role as a parent.

In fact, having a friendly relationship with your kids is important. Researchers found that children with warm, supportive, and empathetic parents tended to be more engaged in school. They also were less likely to get into fights or steal things.

So, how do you find the right balance between parenting and friendship when it comes to your kids? While your child is younger, you will pretty much make all the decisions. But as they get older, and they begin to develop some independence and autonomy, you can start to function more as a mentor or coach and allow them some freedom to make decisions.

Of course, the age in which you start to pull back will depend largely on your child's maturity and responsibility. This also doesn't mean you won't still have to utilize age-appropriate discipline strategies or set boundaries for your kids, but your parenting relationship will evolve.

You also can look for opportunities to spend time together and do things you both enjoy. But be careful not to look to your kids to fill a need for friendship. You need to nurture your own friendships as well as your relationship with your partner.

As a result, set aside time each week to spend time with the adults in your life. Doing so, will allow you to build quality relationships with others so that you don't become dependent on your kids for entertainment or fulfillment.

Why Individuation Is Important

As kids grow up, they go through a process called individuation, which essentially allows them to reduce their dependency on their parents. During this process, kids begin to separate from their parents and develop a separate identity.

Although individuation occurs throughout a person's life, it's particularly important for tweens, teens, and young adults. For instance, they may pull back from their parents, want to spend less time together, and crave more privacy.

Often, when kids begin this separation process, it can create conflict and turmoil in their relationships with others, especially with their parents. But, these conflicts are normal. As long as your child is not taking unhealthy risks or participating in harmful behaviors, you should allow them to separate themselves from you.

Of course, this separation process can be stressful; but resist the urge to try to keep it from happening. This is not the time to give up on being a parent and becoming your child's friend instead.

Trying to keep a child from separating from you or going through individuation can have a number of negative consequences. In addition to lacking self-awareness, boundaries, and self-esteem, kids who don't develop a healthy sense of self may even struggle with mental health issues as an adult. So, make sure you are supportive of their need to separate from you while continuing to guide and parent them.

A Word From Verywell

When it comes to parenting and friendship, there is no one-size fits all. Most parents find that they must adapt their parenting to style to fit the individual needs of each of their children. That said, you are better off focusing on being a good parent rather than on being a good friend.

Of course, as your child gets older, your relationship will change somewhat and you can invite them into some of the decision-making and do more friend-like things with them. But remember, being a parent is a special honor.

Your child will have many friends that come in and out of their life, but there will only be one you. You will have a much greater impact on your child's life as a parent than you will as a friend.

5 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon, CLC is a published author, certified professional life coach, and bullying prevention expert.