Listen to your kids, but not as friends
How do we communicate effectively with our children? It's a question on every parent's mind. And mostly they are suggested to 'be their friend'. Now, how exactly does one go about befriending a 13-year-old, who has declared she needs privacy and has begun to bolt the door of her room? Or what language does one use to interact with a 15-year-old who, along with his peers, thinks it's a fab idea to utter 'Oh Fish' to express disbelief, shock or excitement? Come to think of it, why should we even assume the role of a friend and stop being a parent? The concerns are real and the associated fears normal.
Recently, an acquaintance mentioned how he created a social media account (with a different name, naturally) and began to follow his son on Instagram, just to ensure that he's safe. He learnt his kid was playing video games online and unfortunately interacting with strangers to learn the tricks to master the next level. All's fair in love, war and parenting, after all, he concluded. The journey from an authority figure to a friend is an arduous one and one has to rely on unethical means! You don't want to push them away or widen the already existing generation gap - so, you hope, pray and work hard to get an entry into the friend-zone.
But, let's admit it. Your children already have a bunch of friends who understand their interests and passions better than you do. As much as your child enjoys spending time with you, he/she looks forward to a chat session with a friend, a movie afternoon with the squad and a board game evening with classmates. Very much like you did, when you were their age. Yes, you'd like to send them a friendship request, self-invite yourself to their playdates, nag them with multiple questions, and even embarrass yourself pretending to know everything about K-pop, macaron buns, and Snapchat filters. In the end, you may or may not foster the friendship you sought. At the same time, of course, it's easier to be a cool parent than being disliked; so, you continue to oblige.
In the process, you overlook the fact that your children need a healthy separation from you. They need to individuate to be able to grow. A very close bond can result in their inability to function without your support and a larger distance between you and them can turn them into rebels. It's up to you to define your relationship, whether you call it parenting or friendship.
Here's a suggestion. Be a parent to them until they've grown up to be young adults able to make their decisions. Remember that your foremost role is that of a parent. There will be squabbles, you will have to state boundaries. And that's okay. You could communicate with your children as if you were their peer, but then you will also end up sending across a message that their power, experience and role is equal to yours - just as it is in the case of buddies. So, you take the risk and rely on a few tricks.
Let them finish talking, hear them out. Use a language they understand, which doesn't mean you begin to spell-like as lyk, instead you use age-appropriate examples and anecdotes to drive home the point. Be a good role model. Don't overdo the disciplining or the befriending, this will only annoy them. Don't sneak into their plans, when not required. Be open to admitting your mistakes and this may open a window for them, where they learn how to be forthcoming about their goof-ups. In the end, just focus on raising them well enough and watch them grow up to become your friends. Having said that, do hang out with them. Let them know that you have their back as their friends do, just that you have the authority and responsibility towards them, too.