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Quality time with children over the summer break strengthens parent-child relationships – but is that a friendship? 

Early childhood expert Dr Elise Waghorn, Lecturer in Early Childhood at RMIT University, says parents should not be friends with their children and parent-child boundaries are important.  

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

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

Parents typically have more life experience and maturity than their children. Maintaining a parent-child relationship acknowledges this difference and emphasises the guidance and support that parents can provide.

“Parenting requires a certain level of authority over children,” says Dr Waghorn.

“There are four main styles of parenting 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. 

“They also 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,” says Dr Waghorn.

A parent’s primary role is to provide guidance, set boundaries, and maintain authority. Being too friendly might undermine the parent’s role and make it challenging to establish and maintain necessary rules.

“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.”

Parenting involves making decisions that are in the best interest of the child’s long-term well-being. Friendships can be transient, and prioritising the long-term relationship may require a more traditional parent-child dynamic.

Elise 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.