Your best friend shouldn’t be your five year old

Harry Harrison

Being our child’s best friend seems the right thing to do. We don’t want them scared of us; we want them to like us. We don’t want them to feel alone; we want them to feel like they belong. We play catch with them, take them shopping, have tea parties with them, help them study and have pajama parties all to show them

“Hey, we’re your buddy. You don’t have to fear us. You can like us.”

This is not saying we shouldn’t go horseback riding with our kids, or engage in a fantasy of dolls and teas with them or chase them in a swimming pool. Playing with our kids is an activity dads need to do with our children. Our soul needs the joy of hearing them laugh, of experiencing their affection.

But the moment our kids think of us as their “friends,” our dynamic with them changes. A dad has authority. A friend doesn’t. A dad has expectations.  Friends don’t. A friend doesn’t enforce curfews, tell you to go change your clothes or that your language is unacceptable. So when we are our kids’ best friends tell them those things, feelings are hurt, tears are shed, misunderstandings abound. Our kids don’t know why their parents, especially their dads, are being difficult. We parents can’t understand why our kids are so upset about being parented.

It’s important our kids always think of us as parents first, because if you’re confused about this, imagine how your kids feel. You’re their best friend one day, but the next day threatening to take away their phone if they don’t do their homework. They don’t know what to think, you’re supposed to be their friend. And being their friend when they need a parent can have life-long consequences.

Our youngest son grew up with a strict, no questions asked, roof would cave in curfew. One night he came home as a group of his friends left a party and later got in so much trouble that one was actually arrested, handcuffed and thrown into the juvenile detention center. Kevin (not his real name) was charged with assault and battery against a monster gang leader who had attacked him, but circumstances didn’t matter. Kevin was a star and beloved 16 year old athlete going to jail! At his trial, my son appeared as a character witness and the prosecution asked him if he was so close to Kevin, why wasn’t he with him that night. “I had a curfew,” Field answered. “Dad would have killed me.” Many of the parents laughed, but the parents of the boys who had been arrested shook their heads in despair. Their efforts to become friends with their kids had led to their kids being in a gang fight, arrested, almost seriously injured and now explaining themselves to a judge. Kevin did two years in a juvenile home 500 miles away.

A Fearless Father loves their child, enjoys their child, does fun things with their child, but they are always their father. We can take our kids to baseball games, cuddle up with them at night, tell scary stories with the lights off, even discuss politics without sending them the message that they are our equals. Knowing where to draw the line between friend and parent is sometimes difficult but answering one question can help you decide. “What would a loving parent do for the long term benefit of their child?” A friend would say let’s sneak out tonight, where a parent would say sneaking out is a swell way to be grounded until you’re thirty. A friend would say let’s see what happens if we drink this bottle of Jack Daniels, a parent would say … well, it probably can’t be printed here.

Friends don’t really care if they all grow up or not, but Fearless Parents never lose sight of the fact their child will be entering the adult world, ready or not. Being a parent means having expectations,

setting rules, establishing consequences, and demanding acceptable behavior; and while that doesn’t seem too friendly, friends aren’t going to race home from work to get them to soccer practice twice a week, do without so they can have school clothes, or put dinner on the table every night.

My wife used to remind our boys, “Friends don’t pay for college.”

Being your kids’ friend is the easy way out. Being a father, a real father,  means you have to be fearless.


Excerpted from Fearless Parenting. Raising a Child to Face the Adult World by Harry H. Harrison Jr. Available for Kindles, computers, iPads and iPhones at






Harry H Harrison Jr. is a NYTIMES best selling parenting author with over 3.7 million books in print. He has been interviewed on over 25 television programs, and featured in over 75 local and national radio stations including NPR. His books are available in over thirty-five countries throughout Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Norway, South America, China, Saudi Arabia and in the Far East. For more information visit