Friends are an important part of our children’s lives, and as parents, it’s our hope that our children choose them wisely. But what can you do when your child makes a friend you just don’t approve of? Should you to step in or stand back?
We want to steer our kids away from bad influences but sorting out a negative friendship can be tricky. The interactions between kids are difficult to navigate at any age, and the older your kids get, the more the challenging it becomes as a parent. So, what, if anything, can we do to protect our children from the influences of their unruly friends?
If you want kids who are resilient, you can’t isolate them from social pathogens
When dealing with a less than ideal friend for our child, our initial reaction is often to criticize and pass judgement. But this can be counterproductive, as children can be very defensive of their friends. Try to avoid getting in a power struggle or a war of words. Remember, by criticizing, you run the risk of making the friendship (gasp) stronger.
Instead of constantly drumming home why you don’t approve of the friend in question, experts suggest respecting their choice in friends. "I always tell parents it is best to have the conversations before confrontations take place," explains parenting advocate and author Sue Scheff to CNN. "Staying calm, showing a genuine interest in their friends, even if you don't care for them, will show your child you are respecting him or her."
Set Healthy Limits
Though a hands off approach might work in some cases, remember that you're the parent and can set limits for your child. If your child's friend is engaging in questionable behavior, set parameters on how much time they spend with that child and where they see them.
Sit your child down and give them clear and concrete reasons on why limits on their friendship are being put in place. Focus on the impact their friend’s actions have on your child, rather than spouting off a list of things you dislike about their friend.
Keep a Watchful Eye
Offering to have playdates at your house will help you get to know your child’s friend better and what your child finds appealing about this friend. You’ll also be able to keep your ears open to determine if your concerns about the friendship are really grounded. Who knows? You may even end up realizing their friend isn’t really that bad, after all.
Don’t Forbid the Friendship
Unless your child is in immediate danger, trying to dictate who your child can or can’t be friends with denies your kid certain independence, warn experts. “If you want kids who are resilient, you can’t isolate them from social pathogens,” explains Timothy Verduin, Ph.D., a clinical assistant professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine. “Think about the long view, that you’re training them to handle less-than-ideal people and solve their own problems.”
Communication is Key
Talk to your child openly and honestly about your concerns about their friends and ask for their input. Focus the conversation on your child's feelings about their decisions and their beliefs, and how their friends do or don't influence them. You can add your own input as well but be sure to listen first.
If you have genuine concerns about the friendship negatively affecting your child, rather than bluntly saying, “I can’t stand that kid,” help your child think things through by asking pointed questions about the friendship. How should friends treat each other? Do friends encourage each other to do things that they know are wrong? Is it okay to act disrespectful to others?
Ultimately, the best way to influence your child’s choices is to not put blanket restrictions upon them which could cause them to rebel. Instead, build a foundation of trust so that you can talk to them in a non-judgmental way about your concerns.