100 Words On: Why You Should be a Parent, Not a Best Friend

Whether they know it or not, children depend on their parents to say “no” and make tough or unpopular decisions for their benefit. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to effectively enforce rules and boundaries without running your household like a dictatorship. That’s why I’m continually bewildered by parents who brag that they’re best friends with their kids; the roles are mutually exclusive. Parents who insist on being both blur the line of authority that kids require when growing up.

The bottom line: Kids have numerous friends, but only one set of parents. You owe it to them to play the right part.

Photo Credit: E. Yoshio


  1. 1

    John Lebeau says

    AMEN Len!

    I am a single father of boy/girl twin 16-yr-olds. I have been raising them on my own for 13 1/2 years. If I acted like their best friend instead of their father/authority figure they would not be the polite, well-mannered, good students they are. Worse yet, they would rule over ME like a dictator!

    Keep the good insights coming Len!

    • 2

      Len Penzo says

      Thank you, John.

      The truth is, we as parents either rule … or be ruled.

      I prefer the former. :-)

  2. 3


    I hate to say you’re right as you have trouble being humble already, buuuut, you are right.

    It does make for a few hellacious times during those teenage years though.

    • 4

      Len Penzo says

      I’m just getting acquainted with those teenage years, Dr. Dean — and it can be a challenge. My 14 year-old-son tests me more than ever, but I stick to my guns even though the easy route would be to simply avoid the strife and just cave in by saying “yes.”

      The good news is I have maintained my kids’ respect and I know all of this hard work will pay off in spades as they reach adulthood.

  3. 10

    Oscar says

    Not to mention the fact that kids – when they are complaining about their parents – don’t really want them to be their friend. They just want them to not tell them what to do!

  4. 12

    Sandy E. says

    I agree with this 110%. Kids already have friends, so they don’t need another in a parent. What they do need is a parent who is watching out for them, because friends don’t or won’t. While my daughter was growing up, I could have cared less if she hated me. What I cared about is that she minded me, and she did. Interestingly, there were a few times when she didn’t want to do something with her friends, that they wanted to do, and asked me to be the one to say “no” so that she could blame me to her friends, that her mom wouldn’t let her, rather than have her friends be mad at her. Heck yes, I jumped in there for her, not caring if they were mad at me at all. Not at all. When my daughter turned 18, she gave me a long letter, and in it she thanked me, (thanked me! never saw this coming) for sticking by her throughout her childhood and keeping her on the right path.

    Ironically we are best friends now. I think there’s a point, is it age 18, 21? when you have to decide to stop parenting in that sense, and now become their friend because what you taught them earlier should stand, and you have to let them make their mistakes as a young adult, just like we did, and learn from it. (My advice to parents is that even if your child acts like they are mad at you, stick to your guns, because secretly they won’t admit it to you that they are kinda glad, but maybe, like me, when their childhood is over, then they will thank you for it). I’m proud of my daughter. She married a great guy, became an RN and now has 4 kids! Whew — we’re busy!!

    • 13

      Len Penzo says

      Congratulations, Sandy! You should be very proud of your daughter — and yourself for raising her! :-)

      I think you are right about the change that comes around once kids reach a certain age. I suspect I’ll stop being dictatorial when my kids move out of the house and get a place on their own. That’s when they will officially have their own lives and I will transition over to a trusted adviser role.

      • 14

        Sandy E. says

        Len, this is my last comment and then I’ll get off my high horse. I know you have a daughter. Here’s what I told mine about boys when she was in Jr. High. “Don’t ever bring a boy who’s a goofball to our house because if you do, I’ll kick him so hard he’ll land on the neighbor’s front lawn across the street.” This made her laugh, but she got the message that I valued her enough that I expected her to look for good qualities and have high standards, and so then she valued herself too. I made it very clear to her and her friends that if they married the wrong type of guy they would have a future life of misery, so don’t go by appearance, go by character. (It turned out that all the boys in high school were too immature, she said, so she waited until after, and wound up with an electrical engineer with a heart of gold). Good luck with your daughter — I know she’ll turn out great too.

  5. 15

    Mindimoo says

    Thanks for this post Len – I often think that if our household was a country then it would indeed resemble a dictatorship (with my husband being the more moderate opposition). Yes, I am a dictator but I want my kids to know right from wrong – where else will they learn it? Certainly not from their friends. I read somewhere that kids who go off the tracks often wish more than anything that they had had someone who cared enough to say no to them.

    • 16

      Len Penzo says

      Exactly my sentiments, Mindimoo. If kids aren’t taught right from wrong, and how to behave like responsible upstanding people by their parent, then who?

      I know I am not willing to let my kids be raised by the proverbial village.

  6. 17


    I feel the exact same way. I can’t stand it when people says things like, “I let my children decide what activities they’ll be involved in.” You know what I wanted to be as a child? A freakin’ gymnast. I had asthma and would ultimately grow to be 5′ 9.5″ tall. It’s not true. You can’t be anything you want to be. I was up against two serious limitations that my mom knew would keep me from excelling. Fortunately, she forced me to play the piano for years. I think it was a wise move. And I’m grateful my mom did what SHE knew was best for me.

  7. 18

    Derly says

    Since I’m not a father(yet, maybe in a couple of years) I do have an opinion: I think that the parents that are friends with their kids are confusing friendship with open communication with their sons. You(as a son) should be able to tell your father what you are thinking or feeling without backlash, and well, we want to give that to(in my case, hypotetical) sons so we tend to confuse being open and honest with being best buddies.

    I know for a fact that I wanted to raise my kids as my friends, but after a few years I realized that yeah, they can have friends AND a father that they can talk to, but that doesn’t mean that we will be BFFs or something like that

    Also, yes, I think that yes, you should be a dictator when they are very young but start relaxing after a while, but it seems that the ages might vary a lot. My mom was a really strict person(as in, bringing a 9.5[¿something like A-?] exam was an utter failure to her and you got punished for that) but after a while she changed a lot and now we have a very nice, fun and healty relationship

    *Sorry if my english is a little rusty, not my first language 😛

  8. 19


    My parents always made sure we knew there was a line we couldn’t cross. We enjoyed spending time with them and having fun, but we didn’t blur the lines of parents/best friends. I think they were smart to do it like that. It made us learn to respect authority and adults in general.

  9. 20


    Parents need to parent. This has never been a difficult concept for me but this generation of parents are so scared to set limits with their kids. It will lead to disaster in the future. Having strong but loving parents is insurance for a child’s future.

  10. 21


    First time reading your blog and post and I couldn’t agree with you more Len. I have a 7 year old daughter and a 5 year old son and because I love them soooooo much is exactly why I subscribe to your theory. I owe it to them to be a parent first and I find the key to actually succeeding without being a dictator is communication. Not just explaining things clearly to them, but leading them to use their minds to analyze situations and circumstance. When I die (hopefully not for a long time) the one thing I want to make sure my kids learn is critical thinking! The other thing most people would be surprised to find out with this type of parenting is that your kids will actually respect you more! At least that is my experience which makes it even that much more rewarding. Great post!

    • 22

      Len Penzo says

      We are big on communicating with our kids too, Lou. We don’t shy away from anything either. It helps that we have dinner every night as a family at the kitchen table — with the television OFF. In my opinion, it is every family’s best opportunity to have in-depth two-way discussions with their kids.

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