Why is it that one of the most powerful child-rearing strategies, parent modeling, does not appear to be having the level of positive impact on children today as in previous generations? Perhaps it is because the original intent of the phrase no longer applies to vast numbers of parents; parents whose focus is more on being a friend to their children than on modeling appropriate adult behavior. Children do not need their parents to be their friends. They need other children to be their friends just as adults need other adults.
Normal adult friendships include engaging in conversations and activities of mutual interests and assisting one another in times of need, each of which may require personal sacrifice. Young children are in the process of developing emotionally, unable to fully grasp such concepts as sacrificing for the benefit of another. They do not have the mental or emotional maturity to be friends with an adult. As such, when an adult strives to be friends with a child, often the adult must descend to the level of the child. Over time, the adult may no longer be perceived by the child as an authoritative leader making it more difficult to switch to ‘adult’ mode when disciplinary measures are necessary.
When attempting to parent by becoming friends with one’s children, the greater effort falls on the parents. Solidifying a friendship with a child typically involves overindulging the child in an attempt to keep the child happy and the friendship positive. Overindulging children can lead to a sense of entitlement and prevent adequate development of important character qualities (humility, determination, perseverance, empathy...). This parent approach may begin with the best of intentions but can lead to unrealistic and/or unfulfilled expectations later in life for children.
It has become quite common for parents to add the word okay to the end of their sentences when speaking to their children. Okay at the end of a sentence transforms the statement into a question and turns control over to the child. This is problematic because young children know what they want but not necessarily what is best for them. Soliciting opinions and/or decisions that should be made by adults can be stressful on children. Likewise, when adults make appropriate decisions for children it provides children with a needed sense of stability and security,
Healthy emotional development in children is most effectively achieved through actively engaging in age-appropriate activities. Children learn a tremendous amount from other children (i.e., new skills, the importance of sharing, how to problem solve, the benefits of imaginative play, how to manage competition...). By observing adults interacting with other adults, children learn (progressively) how to be an adult. They learn in bits and pieces based on their chronological and developmental age.
If being a child’s friend becomes the yardstick by which being a good parent is measured, ‘parent modeling’ becomes a moot point. Real friendship comes once children emancipate from the family - when they truly become adults in their own right.
© Sharon Knapp Lamberth, April 2022