Listen: Brett Ryan chats to Laura & Duncan about parenting teens.
“If your kids like you all the time, you’re probably doing something wrong.”
So begins a chat with families pastor Brett Ryan about whether parents should best friends with their teenagers.
Brett, the CEO of Focus on the Family Australia and a dad of three young men himself, spends his days thinking about how to help families become stronger and more resilient. And he’s keen to dispel the myth that parents need to become permanently ‘cool’ and permissive as soon as their children reach the teenage years.
His advice flies in the face of TV shows like The Gilmore Girls, where mother Lorelai, only 16 years older than her daughter Rory, has a relationship with Rory that’s akin to best-friends.
“We have the Gilmore-Girl phenomenon, where the mother and the daughter [on the show] had this incredible bond,” Brett said. “They were like sisters and best friends. But any time the mother wanted to speak to her daughter [about something serious], she found it difficult because she was more friend than parent.”
Brett says that buddying up with your teenager as though they are a ‘bestie’ or an equal, can jeopardise your ability to parent them properly when they need strong guidance.
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“When parents who want to be their child’s best friend, then want to put on their parenting hat to discipline, create boundaries or delegate some responsibilities, it can often be difficult,” he said. “Parents need to aim to be a parent first. Your kids are going to have plenty of friends but they’re ideally going to have one set of parents. So I think it’s probably better to be the ‘best parent’.”
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Young People Thrive with Clear Boundaries
While having a level of friendship with your teenager is a valuable part of your relationship, what teens don’t need is parents who strive to ‘make them happy’ all the time. Instead they need parents who are focussed on raising their children to be resilient, mature and responsible adults.
“When you keep on making the boundaries a bit blurry, teenagers don’t know where they fit,” Brett says. “They don’t feel secure. And that’s when parents are trying to please their kids. Our job is not to please our kids or make them happy. Our job is to shape and mould their character and build them up, so they can be independent free thinkers who can contribute well to the society.
“As a result of being a parent that actually forms boundaries and parameters and consequences for poor choices – and follows through with those things – kids thrive. In sport we see young people thrive when they know the rules and the boundaries, and it’s the same in life.”
Allow Your Friendship to Grow Naturally
While it’s important not to be a ‘pushover’ with your young adult children, being firm with them doesn’t have to mean being a harsh dictator, either.
If you strike the right balance, your teen will have every chance of growing into a well-adjusted, mature and confident young man or woman.
“I think it’s really important to know that if you do create firm boundaries, as a result of those things, you will have a friendship.”
Brett said he’s seen this in his own family.
“They see me as someone who can be a mentor, companion and friend. We keep a balance.”
“I can actually say that with my boys, now they’re young adults, we’re friends,” he said. “I’m still their dad, I’ll always be their dad, but I like being in their company and they like me being in their company.”
He said his one of his biggest wins as a father was when his sons decided to plan an adventure in New Zealand as an alternative to Schoolies Week—and invited him to come with them.
“It was fantastic,” he said. “We had an amazing time, hired a campervan and had a wonderful time and we keep on talking about it. I’m not saying I’ve got it all together, but that happens because I’ve been a dad who had boundaries. And now they can see me as someone who can be a mentor to them, as well as a companion and friend, and we keep this balance.”