Should parents be friends with their children?
The Sector > Research > RMIT weighs in on whether parents should strive to be friends with their children

RMIT weighs in on whether parents should strive to be friends with their children

by Freya Lucas

December 28, 2023

Quality time with children over the summer break strengthens parent-child relationships – but is that a friendship? Early childhood lecturer Dr Elise Waghorn weighs in. 


Friendships signify a willingness and choice to participate in a mutual relationship. Unlike parenting, where there’s no opting in or out, Dr Waghorn said. 


“When parents are ‘friends’ with their children, they run the risk of children not being accountable for their actions.” 


“Parenting requires a certain level of authority over children.”


Dr Waghorn noted the four main parenting styles accepted in child psychology: authoritarian, authoritative, permissive and disengaged.


“If parents were to have a friendship-like relationship with their children, it would be considered a ‘permissive’ style. While this style tends to be very loving, there are minimal guidelines and rules. This ultimately will result in children struggling with self-regulation and self-control.”


Children who are raised with a permissive parenting style tend to  lack self-discipline and have poor social skills, feeling insecure due to limited boundaries and guidance.  


“Most experts would agree that the ‘authoritative’ style is the most appropriate, as it is an approach that combines warmth and sensitivity but still enforces restrictions and limitations,” she said.


“Authoritative parenting style is the ability to recognise the difference between being respectful, listening, and supportive and when rules and expectations need to be enforced. 


“Boundaries and limitations help children develop routines and rituals, which is considered a worthwhile life skill and will ultimately prepare them for adulthood.”


Dr Waghorn’s research focuses on exploring the everyday life of children in Australia and their connection to policy and educational experiences in Hong Kong and Singapore.


Follow her work here. 

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