Friend or authority figure: What should a parent be?


Fact Box

  • The National Library of Medicine relates that there are four parenting categories, 'authoritarian, authoritative, permissive, and uninvolved.' 
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends parents use 'healthy forms of discipline, such as positive reinforcement of appropriate behaviors, setting limits, redirecting, and setting future expectations...[and that parents] do not use spanking, hitting, slapping, threatening, insulting, humiliating, or shaming.'
  • A 2020 PR Newswire study found that 54% of parents approve of the authoritative parenting style.
  • Psychology Today reported that 43% of parents say they 'want to be their child's best friend,' while 65% of teens believe their parents 'try hard to be a friend.'

Bre (Authority Figure)

Would a friend take you for immunizations or make you go to bed? Friendships are generally egalitarian--meaning no one person has authority--so it’s not common for one friend to depend on another to feed and bathe them or keep them safe. This role is a huge obligation, not held by friends for many reasons. The imbalance of such a friendship would make it unsustainable.

Parenting is a demanding job in which the primary task is to sustain life. Young children don’t have experience to draw from; authority is essential to keep them safe. As adolescents, boundaries become imperative on a level requiring a deeper foundation of trust. Growing kids need structure and consistency to build the necessary skills to thrive in the world.

Research shows excessive permissiveness negatively impacts children’s productivity and self-control and can even make children more aggravating to peers. Coddling contributes to narcissism and damages the ability to uphold rules. Studies repeatedly confirm kids fare better with appropriate limits. Standards and consequences facilitate responsibility, respect, and consideration, whereas pronounced lenience can lead to inappropriate life expectations and a sense of entitlement.

When parents treat kids like friends, they risk over-sharing and increasing their anxiety, harming the leadership role and causing unnecessary distress. And when parents attempt to be their kids’ friends, they fail to enforce necessary restrictions to keep their children happy and healthy, allowing for situations of neglect and endangerment. Either way, respect is lost, undermining the primary responsibilities of parenthood.

The desire to be liked simply must not come before instilling needed life lessons. Only once adulthood is reached and responsibility has been shifted can healthy parent-child friendship be prioritized.

Chad (Friend)

While there are times when parents need to be firm and keep kids on the right path, having a friendly relationship with them is better than an authoritarian one. Authoritarian parenting often means high expectations, low responsiveness, and a focus on control rather than nurturing--it is the parent who rules over their kids. 

It is believed that developing minds do not grasp the word 'no' as adults do, leading to confusion. Authoritative parents tend to say 'no' a lot, which leads to the expectation of hearing it, apathy towards it, and later, rebellion against it. It is also more likely that the child will develop bonds with adults other than their parents—people who may not have their best interests at heart. 

The authoritarian parent's rapid 'no' response is usually followed with the explanation 'because I said so,' which is a logical fallacy (argument from authority) and minimizes the child's sense of exploration and attempts to understand the world around them deeply. This parenting style creates children who are less likely to think critically as adults and be less engaged with the world around them. 

A better method is to take the friendly approach; instead of telling the child not to do something, tell them what a better alternative is ('Yes, but'). Doing so has the opposite effect, and instead of pushing the child's interest down, it encourages them to think of what is best. It creates a learning moment that helps strengthen the bond between parent and child. 

Friendly and encouraging parenting leads to more altruistic behaviors and a child that is more prepared to take an objective, critical approach to situations they encounter in life.

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