From that first official playdate (of which you have total control) to entering the school years, your child will increasingly be faced with decisions about who to spend time with and who to befriend. Those choices can have a monumental impact on your child’s future.
Study after study shows that friends have a tremendous influence on a person’s life. To varying degrees, they influence almost every behavior—from what you wear and what you buy to what you watch, what music you listen to, and more. Happiness, academic success, and even how much you weigh are all affected by the company you keep. That’s why it’s so important to teach children to choose friends wisely.
Start the Conversation
The earlier you start the conversation about the influence friends can have and what attributes to seek in a friend the better. Be alert for those teachable moments to discuss what to look for in a friend, as well as what qualities can be destructive. Friendship-themed movies and books for younger and older children are good springboards for those discussions. This mom’s list can help you articulate specific qualities you want to encourage your son or daughter to seek out. And don’t forget that asking lots of questions and listening are as important as advising.
Continue the Conversation
As your child matures and grows more independent, the discussion (as well as your level of control) naturally evolves. Knowing when to step in and when to allow your child the freedom to make his or her own decisions can be difficult. This GlobalPost.com article offers helpful guidelines on how to talk with teens about choosing friends who will be a good influence and how to handle it when they make choices you don’t like. “Here’s the bottom line: kids are going to make mistakes and they’re going to make bad choices. The best we can do is guide them, set limits, project our view of what’s right and wrong in the world and hold them accountable,” says behavioral management expert James Lehman.
If you are the parent of a child in an online school, virtual friendships may comprise some of your child’s social circle. In fact, any children involved with social media may make friends online. Make sure you know who your child’s online friends include. And remind your child that the same qualities they should look for in an “in-person” friend also apply to their online friends. Likewise, destructive behaviors that can occur offline, can occur online. Talk to your child about cyber-bullying and basic online safety guidelines.
Good friends are some of life’s greatest gifts. Guiding your child on the road to developing safe, healthy, and happy friendships can be tricky, but keeping the lines of communication open is key. Let us know what strategies and resources you’ve found helpful in guiding your child’s choice of friends.
Featured Image – Loren Kerns / CC by 2.0