5 Ways Parents Undermine Their Parental Authority

In my work with teens I have noticed many parents want to be their teen’s best friend, their “BFF.” But, our teens do not want parents as their best friend. They want us to guide, mentor, and discipline. They need us to remain strong parents they can rely on to maintain the structures and teach the values that keep them safe. Of course, this all flows from relationship, but not a peer to peer, friend to friend relationship. It flows from a healthy parent-child relationship. With that in mind, let me share five things that undermine a healthy parent-child relationship, and, in undermining that relationship, interfere with effective parenting.

  1. Woman - Tough RapperDressing like your teen. Our teens do not want us to dress like them. They are differentiating from us, learning to be their own person. Dressing differently than us is a safe way in which to separate some. In fact, many teens become embarrassed by a parent who dresses like a teen.
  2. Socializing with your teen on social media like “one of the gang.” No need to constantly “like,” “retweet,” or “comment” on every post, tweet, or picture. Sure, parents need to monitor. We might even comment or “like” something, but don’t overdo it. Do so minimally. Let your teen have their individual space; and, make the time and effort to create a space for you and your teen to relate outside the world of social media. You can create space with your teen any place that provides the opportunity to look one another in the eye and talk instead of texting or messaging. Some great places to interact and talk with your teen include the car (when transporting all over town), a coffee shop, the front porch, walking the dog, playing a game…you get the idea. Make your main avenue for socializing with your teen some face to face contact.
  3. Siding with your teen’s boyfriend, girlfriend, or peer. In fact, do not even involve yourself in the drama of teen life. You can talk with your teen about relationships. Share ideas and ways to handle various relationships and stressors. In private conversations with your teen you might even point out areas in which you agree with their peers. But, look for areas of agreement with your teen. Your teen needs an advocate, an ally in the harsh world of teen drama. They also need someone who will help strengthen them with insight and wisdom for dealing with the drama. Offer your insight gained through years of experience. Encourage them to think about alternative perspectives. And, by all means, stay out of the minor teen drama. Let your teen learn to manage their social interactions on their own. Let them learn how to handle their own life drama independently.
  4. Telling your teen’s secrets. Your teen needs to know they can trust you and rely on you to keep their confidence. Don’t tell your good friend about the relationship struggle your teen opened up about. Don’t publish the “lovely talk with my wonderful teen” on Facebook after they tell you about an “interest in a certain boy” or tweet about “those teens who…” after they tell you about a rude comment made by a peer. Just keep it between you and your teen. When teens know they can trust you to keep the “little things,” they are more likely to come to you with the “big stuff.”
  5. Giving in on discipline. Teens need (and even want) parents who remain consistent and predictable in consequences. Loving and appropriate consequences help teens develop healthy boundaries and then internalize healthy limits. Give them this gift by thoughtfully and loving setting age-appropriate limits and consequences. Then stick with them. (See Four Benefits of Negotiating With Your Child)


The five actions described above will undermine your parent-child relationship and your influence on your child. Consider them carefully. Then, lovingly step back from any desire to become your child’s BFF and remain their loving, involved parent instead.

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