Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Can Parents Be Best Friends To Their Children?

I sometimes hear people say, "God didn't give us children to be their friends, but their parents." The assumption is that you can't effectively be both.

But is that true?

I would argue that if we aren't among our children's best friends, they will be largely influenced by those who are, usually their peers. Having said that, parents must of course be more than just friends to their children.

Dr. Philip Osborne, in an excellent book on parenting published over two decades ago, outlines four primary areas in which parents play key roles:

1. Problem-Free Area (when neither parent nor child is bothered)
It is in this area that parents actually exert their greatest influence, according to Osborne, as they work, play and talk together in ways that are rewarding for everyone. After all, responsible behaviors and good values can't be ultimately be forced on children, but are learned by their imitating the people they most admire and want to be like. Conversely, many misbehaviors result less from children defying us than from their imitating our own bad behaviors.

2. Child's Problem Area (when child is bothered by something that doesn't directly bother the parent)
Here the child owns a problem, is troubled about something a parent may not feel is that important, but is very important to the child--like being left out by a friend or peer, suffering from acne or a weight problem or not making the cut in a school athletic team. Here the job of the parent is to be the empathic counselor who listens and shows support but without offering too much unsolicited advice. Wise parents see this as an opportunity to help children learn good problem solving and coping skills that will serve them well in adult life, as well as an opportunity to help the child learn that it is always safe to  confide in parents and other caring adults when they are troubled and need help.

3. Parent's Problem Area (when the child is not bothered by a problem behavior in need of correction)
Here the parent takes on the role of a law enforcement professional, much as a police officer might respectfully write us a ticket for a traffic violation. The parent doesn't take the misbehavior personally, but treats it as a violation of clearly defined household rules which have clearly spelled out consequences if ignored. It is these reasonable and respectfully applied consequences, not the parent's blaming or lecturing, which delivers the lesson the child needs.

4. Mutual Problem Area (when there are problems that bother both the parent(s) and the child)
Wise parents see the value of having family council meetings to help teach good problem-solving and mediating skills when there are problems with family chores or family policies that need to be resolved. Not everything is negotiable, of course, and parents must agree to any changes before they become a part of the family's legal system, but any decisions made by family consensus remain in force until they are changed. Good parents know that teaching children how to make positive differences at home will prepare them to be active, contributing members of their communities and congregations throughout their lives.

Parents will seldom be very effective in roles 2, 3 and 4, however, if they are not able to maintain respectful, positive relationships as good friends in that #1 role above.

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