Do you want to become your child's best friend? Of course you do! But does friendship with your child ever get in the way of your parenting? Do you cover your eyes and ears, or overlook problems with your teenager's behavior because you fear that confrontation will hurt your relationship?
Some parents place so much value on having a great relationship with their child that they fail to take the appropriate position of parental authority in their life. It becomes more of an issue when there is a split in a family and each parent tries to impress a child in order to gain that child's love. Or, it can happen if a parent is insecure and their child's life has become their life too. It can even happen if a teen becomes rebellious and the parent caves in to their anger or bad behavior.
Parents who give up their authority in an effort to build a stronger relationship become more like a peer than a parent, so I call them "peer-ents." Peer-enting doesn't strengthen a parent-child relationship, it weakens it. Peer-ents tend to refrain from correcting or disciplining a child. They avoid conflict and act like a peer, wrongly defending a child's bad behavior to others, including teachers and law enforcement.
Proverbs 4:1 provides a pattern for proper parenting and parental authority. It says, "Listen, my sons, to a father's instruction; pay attention and gain understanding." (NIV) This scripture tells us that the role of a good parent is to provide a child with instruction that leads to their understanding.
Unlike peer-enting, the goal of godly parenting is to build maturity and self-reliance in your child for when they eventually leave home. The process may be more difficult than you first imagined. Getting a child to a place where understanding something well enough to lead to maturity takes refinement and discipline. It is something only a parent, not a peer-ent can offer, because it requires the enforcement of parental authority. Your teen may not welcome such "instruction" or training and may not feel all warm and fuzzy about your relationship when they are grounded or lose some of their privileges for stepping over the lines, but they will someday thank you for the "understanding" they received from your training and discipline.
Just as exercise is good for building physical strength, a parent may need to willingly allow their child to experience some discomfort for a time in order to help them build their maturity muscles. The result of good discipline may mean your child is temporarily unhappy, and he may not like you in the process.
For teenagers, I firmly believe that discipline should never involve spanking or inflicting physical pain. Unlike younger children, teenagers have the ability to reason well, and reasonable consequences should be applied. Consequences for a teen can include losing the car for a time, an earlier curfew, loss of their cell phone, or anything that they would not like losing. Consequences can also include added work projects around the home or helping a neighbor with chores.
Your child needs you to be their parent, and not their peer. They have plenty of peers, but only you as a parent. If you don't help them move toward maturity and responsibility, no one else will. They are counting on you to discipline and train them to meet the demands of adulthood.
How to Build a Healthy Relationship
One of the most helpful things you can do to build a healthy relationship with your child is to create what I call a Family Belief System. It is a road-map for how your home and family will operate, including clearly defining and communicating how the relationships in your home will function, reinforced with boundaries, rules and consequences.
It's never too late to share with your child your longing for better relationships within your family, or that you believe relationships do best when everyone knows what to expect. So, begin right now to think about what you want to be different, and start to write those things down.
March 26, 2010
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, national radio host, and the founder of Heartlight, a residential counseling opportunity for struggling adolescents, where he lives with 50 high schoolers. Learn more at http://www.heartlightministries.org or call 903-668-2173.
Now you can develop a plan on your own with Our Family Belief System, a step by step manual and an instructional CD for $19.95. Our Family Belief System will pull your family together under a common banner of proper respect, discipline and expectations. You'll learn how to create healthy rules and effective consequences and then properly communicate them to every member of the family.