When it comes to raising teenagers, some parents are not content with taking the role of authority. They want to be friends with their kids, too — Best Friends Forever, as the kids say these days.
In popular culture the archetype of this is the character Phil Dunphy, played by Ty Burrell in the TV sitcom “Modern Family.” Phil likes to think that he is a “cool dad.” He surfs the Web, texts on his phone and thinks he knows what’s hip. He calls his parenting style “peerenting” — that is, being a parent to his teenage children under the guise of a peer. The objective is for his kids to consider him cool, to the extent that they trust him and confide in him as a friend.
I have met many Phil Dunphys out there who like to “hang out” with their teenagers. They drink with them, shop with them, are friends with them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter and even look like them. I have seen mothers who are carbon copies of their teenage daughters, right down to skinny ripped jeans and tight tees.
A mother once told me that she accepted her teenage son’s bad grades because he said that it was unfashionable for him to study. I also know of a parent who actively searches for the latest teen idol singing sensation and goes out of his way to get the concert tickets for himself and his children. Then there is the father who is always seen with the must-buy gadget of the month for teens, whether it be a pair of fancy headphones or a portable gaming device. But how much of a peer can we realistically be to our teenagers?
I am the mother of a teenager and, like Phil, I try to be not just a good mother but “awesome,” to borrow a favorite word from my daughter. I restrain myself from adhering to my own parents’ strict code of conduct.
My late father’s parenting style was straight out of Amy Chua’s “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.” As the modern guru of strict parenting, Chua demands academic excellence from her daughters and forbids them from most other pursuits, including watching TV, playing computer games, having sleepovers with their friends or participating in school plays. On top of having straight As, they must also excel in playing the piano or violin. If my father were alive today he would have given her a Mother of the Year Award and, in turn, dismissed unceremoniously this whole idea of being a “cool” parent.
Personally, I take a softer approach. I believe that teenagers today have different challenges to face than in previous generations, on top of all the usual physical, emotional and social changes of adolescence.
Though I agree that it is important for teenagers to get good grades, I certainly don’t share the view that academic achievement is the be-all and end-all. If all parents shared Chua’s view, we would see a dearth of excellence in the fields of sports, theater, the arts and in the culinary realm. The world would be a sadder place.
So in my efforts to be relevant and in sync with the teenage world of today, I try to find some middle ground. Thus, when my teen is outspoken, I take it that she has a mind of her own; when she refuses to accept my words of wisdom, I acknowledge that she is a different person from me; when she wants me to be scarce, I give her space; when she has mood swings, I try to rationalize that it’s the hormones at work; when she is self-centered, I bite my tongue and try to see things from her point of view. But when she is rude and hurtful, I draw the line and become a fully-fledged traditional mom.
Why? Because as much as it is fun to be her friend, I believe that I can never run away from the fact that I am her parent and will always remain so. While she can have as many friends as she wants, she only has one mom. So while I don’t need my daughter to think that I’m a “cool” friend, I would be most pleased if she saw me first and foremost as her mom and, if I’m lucky, as an “awesome” one at that.
Anita Othman is a freelance writer slaving away on her novel, which is set in Jakarta. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.