Best of: Best Friend or Best Parent?

Category: Weekly Columns

Sex and Vegas

This post will continue the “Best Of” series of column re-runs — early “A Dad’s Point-of-View” columns that may not have seen much in the way of readers. Thankfully, my writing and Social Media work have grown considerably since I began writing way back when. What I strived to do from the onset was to write about topics that had what I like to call evergreen value, meaning the topic was not time-sensitive.

Vegas strip sign

Yes, often I do write on current events such as the Occupy Wall Street movement, a column about the TV Series “Glee,” and Lessons from Amy Winehouse (her death). More recently, I wrote about The Boston Explosion. But, most of my writing is on issues that are eternal. I  started this series with one of my favorite early columns, There’s No Such Thing As Quality Time. This next column reflects another strong belief I had and have and continues to endure and resonate:

Best Friend or Best Parent?

We just returned from a boys trip to Vegas.  By “boys,” I mean my two boys, who are almost 16 and 13 and me, the oldest of the “boys” (according to my wife). I had to consider, yet again, the dilemma we confront as parents today, with the constant assault on our values and the non-stop sexual and violent imagery our kids face. We can’t fully shelter our kids, but what should be the limits? NOTE: It’s been over three years since this column was published and we went on this Vegas trip. I’ve grown as a parent much since then and truly hope I’d have handled things a bit differently.

Richard Gere and Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman

When my boys were very young, their mom (my ex-wife) showed them the R-rated movie, “Pretty Woman” on our VCR, because she thought it was okay for them to see it, as it was her favorite movie. She felt they wouldn’t understand that the Julia Roberts character was a prostitute. I didn’t object and I think that was the first R-rated movie either of them saw.


Now, on this trip to Vegas, I took David, my younger son, to see “The Hangover,” as Will had already seen it with friends (which begs the question, how did he get into an R-rated movie without an adult?). He had my permission, so that isn’t the issue. I thought seeing “The Hangover” in Vegas would be fun and sort of appropriate.  And, truthfully, we laughed loud and hard throughout much of the silliness. I found it more heartfelt than many of the other raunchy R-rated movies of late, but it still left me with a nagging feeling of innocence being lost too quickly. I’m still trying my best to preserve what little innocence I have left, as it’s clearly a lost cause with my boys. NOTE: I used pseudonyms for my boys back then and also note that the 3rd Hangover movie just recently came out!

Seriously, how often do I contribute to the problem because it’s easy or convenient to rationalize a situation? I suspect way too much. When Will was in first grade, we began watching the non R-rated James Bond movies—the older ones with Sean Connery, which really seem tame by today’s standards. Shortly afterward, his teacher requested a parent conference and related that Will had begun a regular routine of acting out shooting other kids, mimicking James Bond from the movies we watched together. I was stunned at my own naïve contribution to this minor, but not healthy, behavior. Stopping the movies quickly stopped the bloodshed. It was that easy.

Values and Morals

I attended a parenting lecture by Dennis Prager, when I first became a dad, and there was substantial wisdom handed out at that event on these issues. He compared and contrasted raising our kids today vs. when his parents raised him in the fifties. In a nutshell, he said that his parents did not have to worry about what he was taught at school, what he’d see in movie theaters, listen to on radio or records, or be concerned about pretty much anything he read. They knew their religious values would not be challenged at his public school. Their pride in America would be honored by not only the Pledge of Allegiance but history textbooks, as well as the values taught and encouraged by the majority of his teachers and the school board. NOTE: How interesting and how completely true this still is – in California, they passed a law requiring history textbooks to rewrite history to include various “groups” whether they were meaningfully present or not. The key word in that sentence is “rewrite!”

He went on to say that his parents also didn’t worry about him walking to and from school, riding his bike around the neighborhood, or even be concerned when he’d go out all day to hang out with his friends, during the summer. What a contrast from what our children now face vs. what our parents did, just a few short decades ago. The list, today, is truly endless of the challenges to our values in the public and school spheres, let alone the over-protectiveness that has crept into our everyday parenting choices out of fear that something might happen to our kids if left on their own. The technology, as Mr. Prager pointed out, makes our vigilance and the job of parenting much more complicated and requires much more attention to the details. NOTE: I think that the term “Helicopter Parent” was introduced after both this lecture and the publication of this column. Apt. 

Las Vegas

So, now I’m back in Vegas and we’re walking the streets, where every place we go is a vendor handing out cards with naked girls, while wearing t-shirts supporting their “escort” service. The buses pass by with similar billboards and all the digital screens and sounds in sight blast the same sexual message. It’s so much that it’s literally numbing.

If we, as parents, are too vigilant or strict, we risk alienating our kids as so many of their friends are allowed even more than we might allow. Obviously, this requires a level of strength, confidence, and a willingness to face the derision of our own kids. If we value our values, we have to risk not being our kids’ best friend and choose, instead, to be their best parent.  It isn’t as easy as it once was and I certainly haven’t helped my efforts by choosing Vegas for our boys trip. Maybe I should switch to a river rafting or other outdoor adventure trip next year. But, those buffets in Vegas…

FINAL NOTE: The reason I chose to re-publish this column is simply that I believe this notion of being your children’s BEST PARENT is very often lost to the desire to be their buddy. It is NOT our job to be their buddy – that is what their friends are for. They only have US as parents – both or one of us, depending on circumstances – and we must resist the comfort zone of just going along ’cause it’s easier and they’ll like us more “in the moment!”

How about skipping that $5 Starbucks latte and splurging $2.99 (for the Kindle on Amazon) or $2.79 for the PDF of my new e-book? Enjoy my own informercial for it! This e-book is really a virtual journey. It’s filled with 100 photos, 7 original videos, and links to many of the stops on the trip. Click on the book cover image below to find your purchase options: 

Book Cover from The Empty Nest


  • Hmmm I revoked access, but didn’t know it would delete my comment. Hope you got a chance to read! I’ll retype later tonight.

    • Bruce Sallan

      @darlapschooltoolbox:disqus – No, I didn’t see your previous comment – and am now quite curious?!

  • David W.

    I remember many years ago, and I mean, MANY — I was about five yr. old at the time — I said to my grandmother, “My dad is my best friend.” She replied that my dad was my dad, he wasn’t supposed to be a best friend to me.

    As a college professor, I sometimes have to deal with helicopter parents. I actually have found a pretty effective way to deal with them. First, I express my appreciation for their concern about their offspring’s education. I continue along those lines for a while until they are feeling pretty good about themselves.

    Then I refer to what the parent has proposed or requested, and say, “My basic concern is that if we do what you suggest, we risk training _[son’s/daughter’s name]_ that his/her parent is going to be there to bail him/her out from something that is actually the son’s/daughter’s duty to handle. So, at what age, then, or point in your son’s or daughter’s development, do you think you and I ought to focus on cultivating personal responsibility in your son or daughter? And what specifically, in terms of developmental benefit, is the ‘good news’ about the idea you propose? I’m open-minded about a good answer to that question, especially since I can’t at the moment think of what the ‘good news’ would be.”

    The usual response is, of all things, something along the lines of, “I never thought of it that way.” From that point I propose a set of tasks that the son or daughter may complete in order to (relative to the situation the parent contacted me about) move in the desired direction. (The situations typically are why the son/daughter received a certain grade in a course; or was not, prior to the semester, given the green light to enroll in a certain required course.)

    The goal is to put the parent and me on the same side with respect to educating/training the offspring in the realities of responsible adulthood.

    • Bruce Sallan

      Will you please come to my house and give that speech to my boys and me and my wife @disqus_dU5ulU60s7:disqus