My sons and I were watching the 1964 version of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer the other day. To be completely honest, they were watching Rudolph in the back seat of the car and I was only listening to Rudolph while driving. At any rate, we were at the part where the baby reindeer are learning to fly, and Comet says something along the lines of,
“Don’t think of me as just your teacher, I also want to be your friend!”
The words were a record player screech in my mama-brain.
“Never trust a grown up that says he wants to be friends with a child,” I said.
“But why?” they asked, sounding sort of heart-broken.
I wasn’t prepared at that moment to have a conversation about creepy adults who liked kids a little too much, but something had to be said.
“It’s not an equal relationship. So let’s say you and your teacher are friends, and you don’t laugh at their jokes or play what they want to play. Are they going to give you a bad grade? You can like someone. You can have a friendly relationship with them (wow, that was a gray area I just stumbled into) but you can’t be friends with someone when there’s an unequal balance of power.”
Their silence told me that they were unconvinced. This whole “not just a teacher but also your friend” thing sounds like a warm and fuzzy idea. They think adults who play video games with kids, or buy them ice cream after games, or give them special attention are “cool” not creepy, because they haven’t seen the sinister side of life.
My father was terrible with boundaries. He used to sign his letters to me “Dad/Clint,” because he said that he wanted to be my friend as well as my father. But here’s the thing: it was not my job to protect his feelings and listen to his problems. It was his job to set rules and sometimes be the bad guy. Parents are supposed to guide children, not tell them dirty jokes or buy them pornography or talk about their sex life with them. Parents aren’t supposed to worry about being funny or cool to teenagers. (OK, we all want to be the cool mom/dad, but adult cool, not teenager cool.)
Don’t get me wrong, I hope that children like their parents/coaches/teachers/ministers as well as respect them. There are many wonderful adult humans who teach, coach, lead scout troops, etc. and are not creepy or inappropriate in any way. But for the relationship to work, the adult needs to remember that they are the adult, not a friend.
Things I talk about with my friends:
- Relationship Issues
- R Rated topics such as alcohol, sex and other not-for-children things
- Parenting quandaries
- How hard it is to be an adult/how much I feel like a failure sometimes
Note: All/Most conversations contain lots of foul language. None of these are topics I would discuss in the same way with my children, because we are not friends.
Here are ways in which I am not a friend to my children:
- I make them do things they don’t want to do, e.g. clean, eat dinner, or do their homework. (I would never tell a friend they had to eat broccoli.)
- I comment on their appearance, sometimes even negatively e.g. you need a haircut, you can’t wear that dirty shirt to school, you need to do a better job brushing your teeth. (More things I would never say to a friend.)
- I force them to listen to lectures about Important Topics.
Full disclosure: I do force my friends to listen to lectures about Important Topics on occasion, but generally only after they have been given an adequate amount of wine. I do not give my children wine when they are forced to listen to me lecture.
I love my children, and as they get older, I love talking with my children about politics and pop culture and everything that goes on in their world. I would rather talk to my kids than many grown-ups. But they aren’t my friends, and they shouldn’t be at this age, no matter what Comet the reindeer says.