Lately I've been watching 'World's Strictest Parents' which is pretty much a show where teens who seem to be vying for the World Championship title of 'Most Dislikable Adolescent' are removed from their comfort zone for a week or two and placed with a 'strict' (otherwise known as sensible) family for a week. In this situation, the teens buck and kick like mules for a number of days while their temporary foster parents patiently reinforce their stated rules (which is relatively easy for these 'strict' parents because a) they are impervious to emotional manipulation due to lack of bonding and b) they know the brat-at-hand will be off their hands in a couple of weeks anyway), until eventually the teens inevitably buckle under and come to their senses.
At this point in the show the broken teen is handed a letter from mum and/or dad exclaiming their concern and hopes for their wayward child - and this is where I always find myself gritting my teeth... Without fail the parents - well actually, it's mostly the mums - will state that their child is their best friend, or that they want to be their child's best friend...
Okay, before you stop reading, don't get me wrong here, I'm not at all suggesting that parents and children are natural adversaries. NOT. AT. ALL! I'm not suggesting that parents and their children can't ever become friends, either.
I'm just saying it cannot happen while the child is still dependant on the parent for food, shelter and protection.
True friendship is an equal partnership. Both parties are equal, both parties can set boundaries. Both parties have the same amount of power in the relationship. This is simply not the case with parents and their children.
A parents job is to apprentice the child, which inherently means, setting boundaries and consequences. Children can't set boundaries and consequences for their parents, nor should they as they have not yet developed enough maturity or experoence to extrapolate the consequences of the boundaries and consequences they might choose to set for their parents.
If parents attempt to be their child's best friend, they put too much pressure on the child to confide in their parents, and considering the intensity of a parent child relationship, this gives the child no breathing room to vent their own frustrations - it's like trying to be best friends with your boss (yeah, yeah, someone is bound to tell me they are best friends with their boss - well, that's pretty rare and if one of you screws it up it's never going to be as messy as messing up the parent-child dynamic).
Likewise, asking your child to be your best friend? Come on, you seriously can't find someone else to be your emotional support? Essentially, that's what a friend is. Don't ask a child to fill an adults role - get a friend your own age!
I'm great friends with my mum, now. We weren't friends until I grew into adulthood - poor mum had to wait until I was nearly thirty. I was still ascerting my independence until then.
Teens are all about ascerting their independences and figuring out who they are independent of their parents (who provided all the DNA). It's kind of hard to be best friends with the people you need to reject before you figure out what parts of them you identify with. If you're cheek-to-cheek with the big picture, it's hard to get enough distance to really see the big picture!
Perhaps one of the issues these terrible teens are having is that there is an expectation of the grand friendship while the teens need enough distance to figure themselves out without the risk of hurting their best friend who just also happens to be their safety net...
By all means be friendly with your teens, be their for them, be an open ear - but please, please, don't delude yourself that you are your teens best friend or expect them to be your best friend. That kind of relationship cannot be had with the person you have to guide and set limits for, the power imbalance is too great. Trying to be your teens best friend is not fair to them, it sets up false expectations that conflict with your role as their mentor and safety net.
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