As parents it seems that there’s nothing outside the scope of the worry-zone when it comes to our kids. We worry about their health, are they eating right (or are they going to turn into a chicken nugget); their safety, especially when they’re away from us; the kind of person they’re going to become…Which leads us to the worry we’ll be focusing on today: the kind of friends our children make, and what to do when they become friends with a child (or children) that maybe you’re not exactly (how shall we say this nicely?) signing up to run their fan club…
In other words, what do you do when you don’t like, or approve of, your child’s choice in friends?
This particular parenting conundrum is one that starts right around the toddler stage and picks up in earnest as they embark upon the school phase. Starting with the early years, here are a couple of friendship scenarios that as parents we might not be comfortable with:
- As a kindergartener, one of my niece’s first friendships was with a child who told her if she didn’t share her snack or play certain things at recess; she wouldn’t be her friend anymore.
- Another example might be when your kiddo is friends with a child who exhibits behavior that you don’t want your child to emulate – like swearing, back-talking, in general naughtiness…
The first thing we need to note is that even though we sometimes might like to, we can’t choose our children’s friends. So while we can’t choose them, we can help guide them. The key here, as it will be throughout our children’s lives, is communication. First we need to be ready to listen, really hear how they’re feeling about the situation while learning what’s going on. We’re still in teaching mode, so talking about what it means to be a friend, and how she can handle herself in those situations in the future is key.
From there, looking at our second scenario, it’s making sure our kiddos know that kind of behavior is unacceptable, tacked on with a conversation about being your own person. In other words, taking that old parenting gem of “If Sally jumped off a cliff, would you?” and revamping it. When you know your child is going to be with that kiddo, it’s important to have a reminder conversation that simply says, just because Sally isn’t being a good listener or following the rules, does not make it okay for you to do it, too.
Later on, as our kids venture into the tween/teen world, their choices in friends can lead to some real nail-biting – it seems like the stakes get a lot higher, yet our approach requires a great deal more sensitivity.
Communication and knowing you’re available to listen are going to be incredibly important at this stage. Even if it seems you’re the last person in the universe they want to be with, just knowing that door is always open will be crucial. In terms of actually coping with a friendship that concerns you, keep these things in mind:
- Don’t be too quick to judge. Borrowing from yet another oldie but goodie: Don’t judge a book by its cover. In other words, don’t make assumptions based on how either your teen’s friends (or your teen) dress or look. Certain types of clothing or piercings or hairstyles aren’t exactly/necessarily a gateway to drugs. Remember, teens are just trying to discover who they’re going to be, and sometimes that means pushing the envelope a bit.
- Get to know the kids in your teen’s circle of friends.
- Don’t assume that just because your child’s friends aren’t making the best choices your child will follow blindly in their path. Again, communicate.
- Like them or not, insulting (or even just pointing out your concerns about) your teen’s friend(s) is not the way to make your point. It will only drive your teen to the defensive – and possibly make the friendship even tighter.
- On that note, if you feel like undesirable behavior is rubbing off on your teen, try the round about approach. Rather than blaming the friend for what you’ve noticed, start a conversation about your child and what you’ve been seeing, thus opening that door to discussion.
- If you feel as though your teen is falling into the wrong crowd, you can “encourage activities with other kinds of peers.”
Undoubtedly this aspect of our children’s lives will cause more than one sleepless night in our parenting career, but perhaps the best we can do is lay a solid foundation as they grow. Instill in them the values that your family holds important, while taking the teachable moments during their younger years for all they’re worth.