Parents should be authority figure, not child's buddy, former head says

Should you be friends with your kids?
Should you be friends with your kids?
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A parent's job is to set boundaries for their child, not to be their "buddy", a leading education expert has suggested.

Martin Stephen, author and former private school headteacher, has bemoaned the rise of the "buddy syndrome" that sees mums and dads try to be their offspring's friend rather than an authority figure.

In an article for the Times Educational Supplement (TES), Dr Stephen also warned parents against defending their children no matter what they have done, saying youngsters need to learn that actions have consequences.

Dr Stephen wrote: "There've been two unfortunate developments in parenting in recent years.

"The first is the growth of the 'buddy' syndrome, summed up for me by a father I once knew who made this announcement about his son: 'There's one thing you should know about John: I am his best friend, and he is mine.' Really? In my experience, children have their friends - the last person on earth they want to be at the party with is their parents.

"Parents aren't there to be friends. Friendly? Yes. Friends? No."

Dr Stephen, who previously served as head at St Paul's School, London, and Manchester Grammar School, went on to say: "Parents are there to dictate unreasonable times for the child to be home by, to limit screen time and to sniff for the cigarette in the bedroom, as well as to hug the child when the longed-for invitation to the party doesn't come, someone else is given the best role in the school play or the bike falls over with you on it.

"Parents are there to set boundaries, boundaries which may provoke annoyance but also give security.

"Children can kick against those boundaries, but in so doing learn and learn again how to negotiate if they want changes."

Dr Stephen also suggested that parents who "ferociously defend their child whatever they have done" are becoming increasingly common.

He described a football match many years ago in which he saw a boy commit a foul on a member of the opposing team and was told off by his father after being sent off the pitch, and compared this to a recent match where a similar incident took place and the father shouted at the referee and told his son it was not his fault.

"Children do get things wrong - and they need to learn that actions have consequences," Dr Stephen wrote.

"Increasingly it's the teacher's fault, or the school's fault - or the fault of the other boy or girl who led the accused astray, never the fault of the child.

"If we defend our children regardless, we bring them up never to accept responsibility for their actions. It's someone else's problem to solve if they're not working hard enough, or fooling around in class."