Are you a mom or a friend?
Being your kids’ best friend rather than their mother can cost you.
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Being a cool mom who allows her children to bunk school, watch age-restricted movies and come home late may make you popular with your children. But being your kids’ best friend rather than their mother can cost you.

Just ask the 41-year-old London mother who recently lost custody of her two sons after a judge found her “permissive parenting style” was harming her children.

Her two sons, 11 and 14 years old, were allowed to bunk school and play on computers all day while she stayed in bed and played with her tablet or cellphone.

A permissive parenting style won’t necessarily land you in court but it can harm your children’s development, says Stephanie Dawson-Cosser, a family counsellor of Johannesburg.

Why can’t I be my child’s friend?

  • “People from your children’s peer group should be their friends,” says Dawson-Cosser. If you try to be your children’s friend they won’t take you seriously when you do behave like a parent, she says.
  • “Children don’t associate their friends with responsibility and discipline. If you behave like a friend then suddenly try to reprimand your children it will be ineffective.”
  • Life coach Loni Gildenguys of Pretoria suggests parents spend time with their children in more appropriate ways, such as having dinner together as a family. “It’s all very well to want to understand your children and find favour with them, but you must do so within a parent-child space,” she says.
  • “You can, for example, have a discussion with your child about the girlfriend of one of his friends, but you shouldn’t discuss intimate details or go along with your son’s comments about her beautiful figure.”

What if my children think I’m old-fashioned?

  • “In their early teen years your children may begin to test the boundaries and may resent you if they don’t get their own way, but you must stick to parenting principles,” says Dawson-Cosser. If they’re upset because they have to be home by a certain time and aren’t allowed to watch certain movies or go to age-restricted clubs, you must make them understand you’re not saying no to punish them but rather to protect their interests.
  • “Teach them to trust your judgment by offering them something better in exchange for what they had to give up.” Instead of allowing your children to stay out until 2 am on a Sunday morning, you can suggest that you and they get up early on Sunday morning and have breakfast at a restaurant, or suggest enjoying a family-friendly movie together, or help  them with their homework.

Setting boundaries

“A parent should be a protector. At a child’s level protection doesn’t go with friendship so you can’t be both friend and protector,” says Gildenguys.

Dawson-Cosser says children flourish when they have a routine. “Knowing what’s coming next in their day gives them a sense of security.” That’s why it’s important to be consistent in what you allow and to have fixed rules.

She says children under five must be taught their actions have consequences. “The early teen phase is like a second round of this learning stage. They must be taught all over again their actions have consequences. Take away privileges if they’re disobedient.”

Must I be friends with my child on Facebook?

Dinesh Balliah, a new and social media lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand, says parents can have their children as friends on social platforms, but parents shouldn’t think this will give them access to their children’s private lives. “Parents should realise that if children want to hide something they will find a way.” So this shouldn’t be used as a parenting method.

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