As our kids grow up, we recognize that friends play bigger and bigger roles in their lives. Through their friends, kids figure out a lot about themselves and who they are becoming. Yet, young people who have trouble forming positive friendship relationships can struggle in many areas of their life.
On the other hand, we worry that our kids’ friends aren’t always good influences. They may isolate, tease, or bully each other. They may also promote attitudes and behaviors that we don’t like. e.g. sexual activities, use of alcohol, tobacco, etc.
Through both your modeling and your actions, you can guide your teens towards the kind of positive peer relationships that help them make better choices and grow up successfully instead of controlling their choices.
Consider these tips to help you be a positive influence on your child.
- Model healthy relationships with others. The first place where kids learn about relationships is in their families. Their experiences with moms, dads, other parenting adults, and siblings have a lot of influence on how they find and get along with friends.
- Maintain a positive relationship with your child. When parenting adults have positive relationships with their children, their children are more likely to form more positive relationships with their peers, including choosing healthy romantic relationships.
- Encourage positive friendships. You can welcome your child’s friends to your home, support them doing things together, and encourage participation in activities with positive peer groups, such as school activities, youth programs, and religious activities.
- Teach friendship skills. Help your child learn to strike up a conversation with someone new, show empathy and support to a friend, listen and ask questions, resolve conflicts, set appropriate boundaries, and other skills that lead to positive, meaningful relationships with peers.
- Keep track of your child’s friends. Parenting adults keep track of where their children spend time, who they’re with, and what they are doing.
- Express concerns, ask questions, and set limits, when necessary. If you are uncomfortable with some friends and do not believe they are a positive influence, talk about your concerns with your child, teaching her or him how to think about relationships. Be open and willing to listen to what your child has to say about these friends, and also talk about what makes you nervous. It’s best not to forbid a friendship, unless it is putting your child in danger.
- Don’t jump to conclusions based on appearances. Don’t judge your child’s friends based on their dress, hairstyle (or color), appearance, interests, or other external factors. Remember that teens sometimes “try on” different identities and interests as a way of expressing their independence. Over-reacting with negative comments can make it less likely that friends will let you get to know them.
- Investigate if your child doesn’t have friends. Some young people are introverted and don’t want or need a lot of friends. But spending a lot of time alone and not having any friends can also be a warning sign that he or she is isolated or having trouble with peer relationships. Ask her or him about it. Check with teachers or other school personnel to see if they have concerns. (Sometimes kids interact well at school, but need alone time at home.) Losing interest in friends for several weeks may indicate depression or other issues. You may also consider seeking help from a counselor if your concerns persist.
- Do pay attention to warning signs. If your child is hanging out with kids who are much older, or if he or she is overly secretive about friends and what they are doing, monitor the situation more closely. Be less enthusiastic about these friendships. Your teen will sense your concern.
- Share your perspective with your child. When talking about a friend who you believe may be a negative influence, focus on the friend’s behaviors, not on her or his personality. For example, instead of calling your child’s friend irresponsible for smoking, you could point out that the behavior has a negative effect on her health and recommend ways for your child to help her quit.
- Set boundaries. Teens can want to spend all their time with their friends or with their boyfriend or girlfriend. Insist that they also spend time at home and meet their other responsibilities.
- Keep your relationship as a top priority. Even if you are concerned about friends and their influence, do not let your worries drive a wedge between yourself and your child. Work hard to maintain your relationship, even while expressing your worries. Your influence will be greater in the long run if you do what you can to maintain a positive relationship.
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