Your Child’s Friends

Doables that encourage good friendships.

Posted Oct 28, 2019

pxhere, public domain
Source: pxhere, public domain

Psychology researcher Judith Rich found that peers influence children more even than parents do. Certainly, friends can influence your child, and you can boost the chances of that influence being positive.

Prevention

Modeling. Especially as your child gets older, s/he notices your friends and their behavior. That could affect who and how they befriend. Might that help motivate you to choose more wisely?

Preemptive discussion. If you keep your conversation brief, respectful, and collaborative, it's usually worth having at least one chat. Of course, the nature of the chat will vary with the child and the circumstances but here’s a sample dialogue:

Parent: Would you mind sitting down for a minute? There’s something I wanted to discuss with you.

Kid: What did I do wrong?

Parent: Nothing. I’m just giving you another of those mini-lectures that a loving parent can’t help but give.

Kid: I can’t wait.

Parent: Friends may have as big an effect as parents do on how a child turns out. So, because you’re starting a new school, I thought it couldn’t hurt to remind you to try to make friends with kids who bring out the best in you, make you proud of yourself. What do you think?

Kid. Yeah, yeah.

The bravura may mask accord.  You well may have planted a seed.

Some parents have a child who’s attracted to the wrong crowd. Here’s a sample preemptive conversation:

Parent: I’m guessing you know why I don’t like Anthony.

Child: No.

Parent: You’re smart. Why?

Child: Because he dresses weird?

Parent: That’s only a clue to a larger problem. Why do you think he worries me?

Child: Because you think I’ll become a weed-smoking screw-up like him. I won’t!  I like Anthony—He’s funny and he has guts.

Parent: I have to say, Michael, that I’d be worried if you spent much time with him and his look-alike, act-alike buddies. (Having made her point, she now shifts the conversation to avoid conflict.) Are there any kids in your class, school, or after-school activity who you like and is a good influence on you?

Child: I dunno.

Parent: There’s got to be someone.

Child:  I guess David, maybe.

Parent: I don’t know him but would you like him to come over and play after school or on the weekend, maybe a video game?

Child: He doesn't play video games.

Parent: Any idea of what you and he might enjoy doing together?

Child: He’s into his telescope. He’s always talking about the stars and planets.

Parent: Maybe he could bring it over one evening and we all could try it.

Child: I’ll think about it.

Again, seed-planting.

Put child in desirable-friend-rich environments

Your child spends half of waking hours around the kids at school and in after-school activities. Consider visiting those to get a feel for the kind of kids there. For example, two soccer teams could vary widely in how kind and ethical the kids are. I’ve seen one team on which when a player makes a mistake, the kids are supportive, while on another team, they’re downright cruel.

Shepherding desirable kids into your child’s life

As mentioned above, encourage your child to invite desirable kids to your home, and once there, make them feel welcome. That usually means a quick, pleasant hello, an offer of a snack, and then leaving the kids pretty much alone. After around the 2nd grade, most children don’t like to visit homes with hovering parents. Given that you’ve encouraged desirable kids, it’s probably fine if they’re left alone, say in your child’s room. But for reassurance, you might, at the first visit,  encourage them to play or study where you can see or at least hear them.

At some point, you might invite the child for a sleep-over or family outing.

Problems

No friends

If you think your child has no real friends, as usual, your first step might be to talk with your child. Here's a sample dialogue:

Parent: So who’s your best friend these days?

Child: I don’t have any friends.

Parent: Do you want any?

Child: No one likes me!

Parent: Do you think that’s because you’re shy? Annoying? Something else?

Child: I don’t know.

Parent: Take a moment to think.

Child: I still don’t know.

If, as in that conversation, no clue emerges, a next step might be to ask the teacher for some insight. Even if s/he has some, you might want to observe your child at recess. If that’s infeasible, ask your child if there's anyone s/he like to invite to your home. If not, you might invite the child of someone you know. Of course, that gives you the opportunity to observe—unobtrusively is probably wise.

I had a client whose child was disliked because he was a show-off: In class, he’d blurt out answers without raising his hand. At recess, he’d brag about his new toy or show off his basketball prowess. No surprise, kids hated him. And because he was verbally aggressive but physically reticent, when the class bully socked him, he ran away, which, made kids lose even more respect for him.

Bad friends

If you sense that your child has friends who are a bad influence, perhaps there’s something in this sample dialogue that might help:

Parent: Do you think I like Johnny?

Child: Just because he wears Goth clothes doesn’t make him bad.

Parent: True, but what’s on the outside sometimes reflects what’s on the inside. Do you think Johnny brings out the best in you?

Child: I don’t know what you mean.

Parent: I mean, I’ve seen you be hard-working and kind. Does being around him encourage you to be like that?

Child: I don’t know.

Again, it’s unrealistic to expect an ideal answer like, “You’re right mom. I’ll never talk with him again.” But planting a seed is worth the chat and it doesn’t engender the conflict that “I don’t want you being with him!” would. Too often, the latter would result in quiet or not so quiet rebellion, your child being more likely to spend time with Johnny.

That said, here's evidence that we humans are far less predictable than are electrons. In college, when I had a friend who was a bad influence, spawned a gambling habit, one day when he came to the door, my father said, “Get out! And never come back!” Because my father was rarely that firm, that somehow made me decide to never see Jeffrey again, and my budding gambling addiction soon faded.

I read this aloud on YouTube.

The most recent installments of this series, Doables: baby steps to a better life, focus on the K-12 parent’s role: choosing a school, homework, friends, sex, and forthcoming: drugs, and  preparing your child for college or other post-high-school options.