Why We Shouldn't Be Friends with Our Children

Being parents isn't about being friends. They're two totally different types of relationships, beyond the obvious biological connection. When we confuse these two types of relationships, we won't be fulfilling our children's needs. Find out why we shouldn't be friends with our children!
Why We Shouldn't Be Friends with Our Children
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 15 November, 2021

Why shouldn’t we be friends with our children? Many parents are still surprised when they’re told that it isn’t good nor advisable to be the best friend of their young children or teenagers.

The main reason is that, by becoming their peers, we lose authority and this puts us in a contradictory, uncomfortable, and counterproductive position, both for them and for us.

However, many parents strive to do just this. Mothers want to become their daughter’s best friend, hoping to be her best confidante as well. Parents also want to be that all-around figure who can be their best playmate, a friend they can talk about everything with, and a buddy they can joke around with.

All this, of course, is positive and enriching. However, some limits should never be exceeded. Parents can’t be on the same level as their children because doing so can undermine their authority.

The moment that status is diluted, the rules cease to have power, there are no more limits, and the child can start to think that everything is permissible. In a world where everyone is a friend, there’s no reason to follow rules.

Let’s reflect on this.

Why we shouldn't be friends with our children.

Why we shouldn’t be friends with our children

In their book, The Narcissism Epidemic, authors Jean Twenge and W. Keith Campbell reflect on this topic. For them, one of the reasons why there are more and more narcissists in our society is related to equaling up in relationships between parents and children. If we ask ourselves why we shouldn’t be friends with our children, this is an important part of the answer.

It’s easy for us to lose authority in this attempt to approach them as we would a friend. We’ll need this authority later on to impose limits that will help to define their development.

Yes, our parenting does need to be close and affectionate, but we also need to know how to maintain authority, as this will favor our children’s development. Let’s see why.

The definition of friendship and the definition of being a father and mother

Before trying to answer why we shouldn’t be friends with our children, it’s worth analyzing the definitions of both two terms.

Being someone’s friend is maintaining an impartial and selfless emotional bond between two or more people. That relationship is also based on a sense of absolute equality in which no one exercises control over the other.

Now, being a parent means loving, educating, protecting, guiding, and caring for someone younger. All of this is exercised from a position of authority. This attention, in order to be valid and enriching, requires the application of a series of rules. These rules give security to the child because they remind them what’s expected of them at every moment.

This way, the person who seeks only to be their children’s best friend will be showing a high degree of negligence in the relationship.

Psychological distress and parents acting as friends

In a study conducted at the University of Illinois by Dr. Susan Silverberg, there were some interesting findings. Some divorced mothers can see their teenage daughters as their best support, even to the point of seeking to be their best friends. This means that they often turn to them with concerns or worries that aren’t appropriate topics to share with their children.

For example, this research showed that many mothers regularly talked to their teenage or pre-teen daughters about their financial problems, ups and downs at work, or emotional problems with new partners. However, what they didn’t realize is that this produced high levels of psychological distress in them.

That kind of intimacy in which children become “dump buddies” to project our worries and concerns onto is highly counterproductive. Our task is to avoid our children feeling distress, not intensify it.

Trust with children, yes, but not “anything goes”

When it comes to establishing a bond of trust with our children, “anything goes” is certainly not the rule. There are intelligent strategies that allow us to keep the lines of communication open, and maintain a close relationship, without compromising our authority to set certain limits. This is the key.

  • It’s advisable to establish a bond of warmth, trust, absolute affection, and companionship, but, at the same time, not forgetting to establish limits.
  • The trust we establish with our children should be directed to promote responsibility, self-knowledge, and emotional maturity in them. A child isn’t our equal. They’re under our care, and we must help them become mature and independent.
  • It’s always advisable to keep certain things to ourselves. A child doesn’t have to bear the anxiety, fears, or emotional concerns of their parents.
Planting some seeds.

We shouldn’t be friends with our children because this creates an insecure attachment

If we ask ourselves why we shouldn’t be friends with our children, there’s another compelling reason. A good bond between parents and children is easier when both parties have secure attachment styles.

Children should see us as people who are able to validate their needs, guide them, always be accessible, and always seek the best for them.

If we base the relationship on friendship, much of this is diluted. The child or adolescent will see us as an equal, someone who’s in the same position as them and who may have the same insecurities and needs as they do.

All of this leads to insecure attachment and a constant contradiction. It’ll feel like a prison with no bars as they try, without success, to find their place in this world. Let’s keep this in mind.

Whether we like it or not, a child’s upbringing and education requires us to know our position in that relationship in order to always be able to support our children in the best possible way.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Bednar DE and Fisher TD. 2003. Peer referencing in adolescent decision making as a function of perceived parenting style. Adolescence 38(152):607-21.
  • Borawski EA, Ievers-Landis CE, Lovegreen LD, and Trapl ES. 2003. Parental monitoring, negotiated unsupervised time, and parental trust: the role of perceived parenting practices in adolescent health risk behaviors. J Adolesc Health 33(2):60-70.
  • Barbeta Viñas, M. (2019). La educación y la autoridad paternas: una exploración cualitativa. Política y Sociedad56(3), 713–736. https://doi.org/10.5209/poso.57358
  • Miller JM, DiIorio C, Dudley W. 2002. Parenting style and adolescent’s reaction to conflict: is there a relationship? J Adolesc Health. 31(6):463-8.
  • Navarrete Acuña, L., & Ossa C., C. (2013). Estilos parentales y calidad de vida familiar en adolescentes con conductas disruptivas. Estilos Parentales y Calidad de Vida Familiar En Adolescentes Con Conductas Disruptivas7(1), 47–56. https://doi.org/10.22235/cp.v7i1.1177
  • Koerner SS, Wallace S, Lehman SJ, and Raymond M. 2002. Mother-to-Daughter Disclosure After Divorce: Are There Costs and Benefits? Journal of Child and Family Studies 11(4): 1062-1024 .

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.