Can you pick your child’s friends?

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, 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 is physical proximity or Internet connectivity, kids get their friends from the places they hang out, and from the people they feel comfortable with. Some kids accept friendships with other kids that they aren’t even comfortable with, but they take what they can get. As busy as kids are today, the only ways some kids can make friends are joining community sports programs and waiting at the school bus stop. They really have little in common with each other, but at least they are together for a while 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 their child develops a friendship with a stranger, and then kick into a protective, reactive mode. When the child makes friends with a neighborhood kid, the parents react disapprovingly. You can almost hear the child scream in response, “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 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, many churches are offering weeks of camp and other child/youth events that a child can get 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 at other places.

When it comes to forming friends on the Internet, we are in uncharted waters. The first question some parents should ask is “Why?” Why would a teen think of establishing friendships with people on an online social network? Perhaps for the reasons some adults establish online relationships that reach a point at which they are willing to leave family and friends. Some teens, too, are lonely and vulnerable. The online environment is an easy place to find someone, but not a safe one.Let’s face the reality that children and teens need to have friends. As parents, if we do not become involved in our children’s friendships, if we don’t get acquaint ourselves with the people they are interacting with, they are left to fend for themselves.

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 Life mindset in the heart of your child.

 “Billy,” a mom can begin, “this Saturday afternoon, when a few of the kids you met at camp are coming over, why not invite Alec 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 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 determine those places and activities as much as you can?

Dr. Robert Barnes is the president of Sheridan House Family Ministries. He and his wife, Rosemary, are authors and speakers on marriage and family issues.  

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