“If you want to be liked, then buy a puppy.” The director of an afterschool program in Oakland uttered these words to a parent after she reportedly stated that she was reticent to discipline her child too severely. The parent explained that she wanted to be strict with her son…but not too strict because she also wanted him to like her. The father was sitting beside the mother during the after school meeting that was called to address their son’s misbehavior. Both parents clearly shared the same sentiment about wanting to be liked.
Parenting is tough work. It is demanding financially, physically, psychologically, and as the example above hints – emotionally. Past generations limited the amount of the emotional pull by raising children according to the maxim, “Children are to be seen and not heard.” Some call it "Old School", as many viewed parenting like a dictatorship. Many of us have heard “Do as I say; don’t do as I do.” Parents were to feed, clothe, educate, and nurture their children. Friendship was never a desired end of a parental relationship.
Rebelling from this perspective led subsequent generations of parents to accept a changing paradigm of parenting and adopt "New School" sensibilities. The New School suggests that a good parent is friends with her or his child and that the parameters that guide friendship are the same ones that guide parenting. That is, "I don’t want to do anything that will upset my child and I want my child to like me so I will be accepting and understanding." This same way of thinking has led to parents allowing their children to skip school, shielding them from law enforcement professionals when they know they have done something wrong, taking the word of the child vs. the responsible adult, doing illegal drugs with their children, encouraging them to settle conflicts with physical fights, and allowing them to be generally irresponsible with anything ranging from housework to finding employment. Most of us know someone who struggles with the friend vs. parent dynamic.
The way to overcome it is to decide who you want your child to become. If you want your child to be a disciplined person with character and integrity, then parent your child with expectations, boundaries, consequences, and love. If you want your child to be a self-centered, undisciplined person with character and personality deficiencies, befriend your child, particularly between the ages of 8 to 10-years-old so that they can quickly be an unruly teen who is primed for an appearance in the criminal justice system, become at risk of dropping out of school, and in the least becoming fodder for a reality TV show featuring adults behaving like children.
Children will tend to be defiant when they hear "no." A child does not like having a curfew or being told to perform household chores. However, what these expectations communicate is care. It lets a child know that they are cared about, that someone cares where they are and who they are with. Focusing on friendship will obscure the goal of child rearing which is arguably to produce a responsible, accountable adult. Later in life, these children will appreciate you as a parent and a person.
Surprisingly, many youth respond favorably to the Old School, but the New School is what they get. In my work with teens I have asked directly, “Do you think it is wrong for a parent to smoke weed with their children?” And the resounding and absolute reply is “yes.” They often follow with, “Are you serious!? Of course a parent should not smoke weed with their child!” Noteworthy is that it is the youth themselves who have decided that it is wrong.
Research reveals that youth want parents that they can respect, depend on, and are present. Research has not revealed that youth wanted parents to be their friends.