As counsellors one of the things we come up against regularly is parents that want to be their children’s best friend and even more regularly we see adults coming for counselling because, as children, their parents didn’t understand their role properly. Although done with the best of intentions, this lack of parenting structure can lead to gambling and substance abuse problems alongside anxiety and relationship difficulties.
In an ever-changing world, the importance of parenting cannot be overstated. While the desire to be a best friend to your child is understandable, it is crucial to acknowledge the potential pitfalls of blurring the lines between parent and friend. Here we have asked Nick Hatter of Good Mental Health, one of the UK’s top rated Life Coaches, to explore the dangers of trying to be your children’s best friend, whilst looking at the significance of assuming a parental role in promoting their mental health and overall well-being.
“Parenting is difficult, I think we can all acknowledge that. The old cliche is true that there is no text book but take it from me, the mistakes people make when it comes to trying to be their children’s best friend will often come back to haunt them. I work with some of the leading sports people in the world, with business people at the top of their game and with professionals who have built successful careers in some of the most competitive sectors. Again and again one of the main areas I find myself working on with clients is re-writing their internal dialogue with regards to structure and discipline, and 9 times out of 10 this is because as children their parents thought it was more important to be their friend than their parent.
Don’t get me wrong in almost all of these cases these successful individuals have largely managed to largely re-write that dialogue themselves….That after all is in part why they are successful in the first place, but in order to take them to the next level we have to recognise the areas that could have been done better during their formative years.
Why is childhood so important and why is the role of a parent so crucial? Well…..although the brain stops growing in size by early adolescence, the teen years are all about fine-tuning how the brain works, this is invariably where success is created and conversely where difficulties are first formed. The brain finishes developing and maturing in the mid-to-late 20s. The part of the brain behind the forehead however, called the prefrontal cortex, is one of the last parts to mature. This area is responsible for skills like planning, prioritising, and making good decisions…..Sounds important doesn’t it?
So although I’m not going to be arrogant enough to try and write the textbook….If no-one has managed it before then I doubt I’m going to be the first. What I have done here however is to list some of the areas that my experiences with clients tells me are really important.
The Need for Boundaries and Structure:
Children thrive when they have clear boundaries and a structured environment. Attempting to be a best friend can often blur these boundaries, making it challenging to establish and maintain consistent rules and expectations. Without clear guidance, children may struggle to understand their boundaries and may face difficulties adapting to societal norms and expectations.
The Importance of Authority and Responsibility:
Parenting inherently involves authority and responsibility. By assuming a parental role, you have the opportunity to instill in your children a healthy respect for authority figures, preparing them for future relationships with teachers, employers, and other mentors. Trying to be a best friend may undermine your ability to guide your children effectively and will invariably shape their understanding of authority and responsibility.
Building Resilience and Coping Skills:
Life is filled with challenges, and children need to develop resilience and coping skills to navigate them successfully. Parenting provides an ideal platform for teaching children to persevere through difficulties, handle failures, and bounce back from setbacks. By prioritising a best friend dynamic, you may unintentionally shield your children from necessary life lessons, hindering their ability to cope with adversity.
Establishing Core Values and Morals:
Parents play a crucial role in imparting values and morals that shape their children’s character. As a parent, you have the opportunity to instill a sense of empathy, integrity, and respect in your children, guiding them towards making ethical decisions and forming healthy relationships. Trying to be a best friend will often dilute your influence in shaping their moral compass, leaving them vulnerable to external, less favourable, influences.
Promoting Emotional Stability and Support:
Children require a stable emotional foundation to navigate the complexities of life. Parental love, guidance, and support are essential for fostering emotional stability and helping children develop healthy coping mechanisms. A parent’s role involves providing comfort, reassurance, and empathetic listening that a best friend may not always be equipped to offer.
Nurturing Independence and Self-Reliance:
Parenting involves preparing children to become independent, self-reliant adults. As a general rule children are supposed to fly the nest
and develop lives for themselves but if you foster a best friend type relationship then they are likely to find that a lot harder and will often find it impossible to spread their wings and experience the independent, successful life that we as parents presumably want for them. By assuming a parental role, you empower your children to make decisions, solve problems, and take responsibility for their actions. Being a best friend can inadvertently hinder this process by perpetuating dependency and inhibiting your child’s growth towards becoming a self-assured and self-sufficient individual.
In summary whilst the desire to be your children’s best friend is natural, it is essential to recognise the potential dangers it poses to their well-being. Parenting encompasses a unique and indispensable role in fostering children’s mental health and overall development. By providing structure, guidance, discipline, and emotional support, parents create a strong foundation for their children’s success and resilience. Embracing the role of a parent allows you to nurture their growth, safeguard their mental health, and set them on a path towards a fulfilling and thriving future.”