Your Child is Not Your Friend

There has been a recent trend of parents proclaiming their child as their best friend. These parents will proudly call their child their bestie or best friend and post about it on social media.  While we understand the underlying sentiment that is being conveyed, we do not believe that the parent and child relationship should be friend like.

Your child is your child. You love them, enjoy spending time with them, and have a blast creating memories with them. However, it should always be remembered that this relationship is not on equal footing. As the parent, you should have the power in the relationship. The parents job is to set boundaries, because as a developing child, they do not know what is best for them. They need guidance and support as they mature and develop. The adult knows what’s best for them, and as such they are in charge. Unlike what friendships are like, this relationship is not equitable.

Telling a child that you are friends confuses them. Children have friends at daycare, school, or around the neighborhood. Within these social groups the power dynamics is often shared between the children. No one child is in charge of the group, setting boundaries, or telling others what to do. Children can choose to not play along, or to not listen to what their friend tells them to do. They have the power in their social groups to choose and do as they please. However, if a parent asks a child to brush their teeth or pick up their toys, a child usually does not have the power or ability to disagree and not complete the task. A child cannot interact or react with their parent like they might with their friends. If parents are constantly calling their child their friend, then when it comes time to dictate a rule or set a boundary children will not understand why they have to do it. While at first it might be cute, in the long run this will create challenges for the parents as the child grows up.

This type of adult-child relationship sets up confusing expectations at school for children too. Teachers are not their students’ friend. In an elementary school classroom, the teacher is in charge of the classroom and the students. While they might have fun together, it is very clear that that authority figure is the teacher. There is no bargaining with the expectation that the teacher sets for his or her classroom. When the directions are to work on an assignment, line up, or clean up students must follow the directions. Students who have the idea that they are friends with the adult in the room have a challenge at school where the power dynamic is not equal.

At the end of the day, remember, your child will grow up, and eventually the parent-child relationship will evolve into more of a friendship. When children grow into adulthood they are more equipped to understand and share in certain conversations and responsibilities that are common among friend-like relationships. But when they are young and developing, you are in charge. You are the parent. You are not equal to your child, and they need to know that.

That does not mean that you can’t hang out, talk with, and experience things with your child like you would with your friends. All of these moments will add up to a close and long lasting friendship with them when they do grow up.

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