Are you your child's parent, or their friend?
‘The Daily Mail’ reports on a warning offered by Professor Tanya Byron, the clinical psychologist who featured in the BBC television series ‘House of Tiny Tearaways’.
‘Children as young as six are brought to my clinics by parents who are anxious that any time they try to set a boundary, the child becomes distressed’. She cautions against the age of the ‘friend-parent’, where children’s development is impaired because parents are so fearful of disciplining their children that they cause regression, rather than supporting their sons and daughters to become increasingly independent and responsible.
Psychologist Dr Aric Sigman suggests that the issue may have arisen partly as a result of significant numbers of women having children later in life, and such mothers combining child-rearing with paid work and feeling guilty about perhaps having less time to spend with their children. ‘There is the feeling that by saying ‘no’ to your children or being in charge somehow damages your relationship with them.’
I remember, as a training teacher, being warned that new teachers who try to be popular and who want their pupils to like them are likely to struggle to form positive working relationships with these young people. Teaching, and parenthood, clearly aren’t popularity contests. It’s natural to want to be liked and, of course, loved, but adults who are reluctant to set boundaries which children may resist are in danger of being manipulated and are less likely to earn the respect of the young.
It sounds easy and obvious, but it is inevitably much more challenging than it sounds. It’s natural to want to avoid conflict, and sometimes it’s tempting to give in for the sake of an easy life in the short term. But Tanya Byron reminds us that in the medium and long term this can be a destructive and dangerous path to take. If we want young people to be self-disciplined, well-balanced and prepared for the real world, both teachers and parents need to accept that it is their responsibility to show where the boundaries are and to support children to operate within them. Children already have friends. What they need from their parents and teachers is something different.