Encouraging Your Kids to Make Positive Friendships
Friendships have a powerful impact on kids, especially as they enter adolescence. Your child’s friends can influence their grades, what activities they choose to participate in, and how they behave. As kids approach their teen years the need to fit in starts to become increasingly important and they often form cliques who have similar interests, such as the jocks, the drama kids, the bookworms, etc. Children who have trouble making friends may struggle with low esteem, lack motivation to get good grades, be at an increased risk of dropping out of school and more susceptible to delinquent behavior.
Parents are often concerned about how their child will be affected by peer pressure and worry that their child’s need to fit in will become more influential than the parent’s own voice of reason. The need for peer approval usually peaks between 7th to 9th grade and many parents notice their child changes their clothing style, haircut, choice of activities and taste in music to be similar to their friends. Despite this transition, rest assured that you are still the most important person in their lives. They are still listening to you, even if they don’t always act like it.
Teens are more likely to turn to their parents to plan for life after high school, choose a career path, discuss religion and ask for help. The influence of parents on children is strong, particularly when that bond is strong prior to adolescence. Here are some ways you can use your influence to encourage your kids to form positive friendships:
Know who your child’s friends are (and their parents)
Invite your friend’s kids into your home and create a comfortable place for them to spend time. Allowing your home to be the place your kids and their friends want to hang out will allow you to see who your children are spending their time with, provide opportunities to get to know your child’s peers, set rules and expectations, and supervise their interactions.
Another way to build a relationship with your child’s friends is to offer to drive them to events. Talking to kids in the car is a great way to open with lines of communication with limited distractions.
Let your kids have some free time with friends
Sports and planned activities are a great way to develop skills and keep kids out of trouble, but having free time with friends is an important learning opportunity as well. Unstructured time is when children hone their social skills, pickup on behavioral cues from other kids and improve their creativity.
Talk about how to handle bad situations
Give your child an example of a potentially dangerous situation and ask what they would do. For example, what would you do if a friend wanted you to skip school? What would you do if someone brought alcohol to a party? What would you do if a friend wants you to go to a house where no parents are home?
Discuss what the possible outcomes of each situation might be and how they can handle it responsibly. Hopefully your child is able to stick up for themselves and tell their friends no when they are placed in a bad situation, but if they don’t feel comfortable doing so, consider options to reach out for help. This is a common stage for parents to begin debating when the right time to give their child a cell phone may be.
Teach your child about making friends and how good friends treat each other
The need to fit in can be extremely compelling in adolescence, which is why it is increasingly important to talk to your child about how to resist peer pressure to break the rules and make sure they understand that good friends don’t encourage you to do something that feels wrong.
Lead by example
Teaching positive friendships through example is more powerful than any discussion or lecture. Kids who witness healthy relationships between adults who model kindness, support and respect are much more likely to seek out friends who exhibit those qualities.