Fewer things influence our children more than the people they hang out with, their friends. Friendships have a powerful impact. Kids want to go where their friends want to go and do what their friends do and think the way their friends think. Knowing the impact friends have on our children, you would think parents would want to be more proactive in the “friend selection process.”
I can hear a parent groaning, “I’d love to help select who my kids befriend, but where do I begin? My kids are so private about their friends.”
Friendships are environmental
Whether it’s physical proximity or internet connectivity, kids get their friends from the places they hang out and with people they feel comfortable. Some kids accept friendships with other kids they aren’t even comfortable with, but they take what they can get. As busy as kids are today, the only place some kids have to make friends are in community sports programs or while waiting at the school bus stop. They really have little in common, but they are momentarily together in these environments.
We can influence the friendships our kids develop, but we have to be proactive. Too often parents are reactive. They wait until the child develops a friendship with a stranger, and we kick life into a protective reactive mode. A child has made friends with a neighborhood kid and the parents react disapprovingly. In response, you can almost hear the child scream, “Mom, where else do you want me to go to have a friend!” This kid just happens to be in our neighborhood.”
Don’t wait. Do your part in this process. Be proactive. Think about environments that are more conducive to offer positive relationships. Obviously a church youth group has a better chance of offering a positive environment than riding a bicycle in the neighborhood.
This summer there are many churches offering weeks of camp and other child/youth events to get a child involved in. This is a great opportunity to place your child in a new environment for friendships. Not that every child at a church camp is the best influence, but the odds are better than other places.
Beware of friends on social networks
When it comes to forming friends on the internet, we are in unchartered waters. The first question some parents should ask is “Why?” Why would a teen think of establishing friendships on social networks? First answer this: Why would some adults go to a social network and establish a relationship that reaches to the point that the adult is willing to leave family and friends just to be with that person. They are obviously lonely, vulnerable and this is an environment where it’s easy to find someone. At least the initial stages are safe from rejection … but certainly they are not safe friendships.
A teen who is lonely for friends can meet another teen (or so they think) online. Before they know it they actually think they have a friend.
Let’s face a reality, our children and teens have a need to have friends. As parents if we do not become involved in our children’s friendship arenas, and decide to get to know who they are interacting with, our children and teens are left to fend for themselves.
Build friendships at home
What about deciding that your home will be a key location to help your child build friendships? Have potential friends over. Get involved in one of the summer church activities, meet some other parents and invite some of the kids over.
As you invite friends over, sprinkle the group with a child or two from the neighborhood. Develop a ministry mindset in the heart of your child. “Hey, this Saturday afternoon, when a few of the kids you met at camp are coming over, why not invite, Josh, from the neighborhood? This would be a great way to introduce him to other kids from church. Then maybe he would be willing to come with us to church since he would know some other kids there.”
The process of developing friends is a great opportunity to train our children. Many parents wait for a problem to develop and then try to rescue the situation. Better to be proactive and help our children lead out when it comes to friends.
No, you can’t really pick their friends for them, but you can pick some of the places they will find their friends. That alone is worth the effort and the involvement. Remember, kids want to go where their friends go and do what their friends do. Why not set those places and activities as much as you can. As we head into summer, this is the perfect time to do this!
Visit parentingonpurpose.org for more advice from Dr. Bob Barnes and Torrey Roberts.
For more articles by Dr. Bob Barnes and Torrey Roberts, visit goodnewsfl.org/author/dr-bob-barnes-and-torrey-roberts/