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Parenting: Friend, Disciplinarian or Both

Parenting: Friend, Disciplinarian or Both


When it comes to their children, parents have many roles.

Parents are caregivers, protectors, educators, and much more.

Balancing all this is a challenge. That isn’t limited to new parents: Even with experience, there are always unexpected wrinkles for parents to face. Each child has a unique experience growing up.

One way to get to the heart of the matter is to consider parenting in terms of two principal roles:

Friend and disciplinarian.

These two roles are often seen as conflicting. Many parents feel pressured to choose one or the other. However, that might simply come from misunderstanding about how to think about them.

The truth is, no parent is solely a child’s “friend” or solely a “disciplinarian.” All parents develop a parenting style with a balance of different ways of relating to their children.

The goal is to get that balance right.

What Does “Disciplinarian” Mean?

Most of the associations people have with the word “discipline” are negative.

We might imagine a child standing in the corner in “time out” in a classroom, for example. Or perhaps a drill sergeant barking orders at new recruits.

In parenting, however, there’s a simpler way to understand the role of the disciplinarian.

It is simply about teaching children the consequences of their actions.

Discipline isn’t “about” taking privileges away or assigning extra chores. Those are just outcomes. What discipline is intended to teach children and teens is that their actions have effects they need to consider before they do something, not just afterwards.

Many forms of discipline, such as yelling and spanking, have been shown to have major negative effects on young people. Parents often have the most success as disciplinarians when they:

  • Address problems quickly and firmly without using anger to intimidate children.
  • Make responsibilities and consequences clear to children before events happen.
  • Ensure that responsibilities, consequences, and privileges grow with the child.

What Does “Friend” Mean?

Some parents think being a child’s “friend” naturally means they will take advantage.

They might think of stories of permissive parenting – often fostered by media – in which parents are disengaged from their children’s lives. For example, families in which drugs are allowed in the home because “it’s safer in here than out there.”

But this is not the type of “friendship” that teaches kids to be mature and responsible.

At any age, effective friendships are built on trust and mutual respect. Friends know each other, care about each other, and understand one another as people. In the real world, good friends don’t take advantage of one another.

No matter how you choose to relate to your children, trust and respect are two pillars a healthy relationship is based on. Young people must feel they will be able to take their worries and questions to parents without being unfairly judged or punished for them.

Parents always have responsibility for the well-being of children. Until a young person is a mature and independent adult, parents will have authority over them that adult friends usually do not have. However, this influence must be wielded with respect for the young person.

That includes recognizing children’s emotions and personal feelings, honoring their autonomy and bodily integrity, and helping them develop their unique skills. All these aspects of a young person’s life will develop as the years go by.

Experiences of mistrust like neglect and abandonment can make it difficult for young people to build healthy relationships with their peers. Wilderness therapy provides a safe and strengthening environment where kids and teens can re-learn healthy ways of relating to others.

To learn more, contact WinGate Wilderness Therapy today.


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