My close friends in life have been a godsend in my development and well-being. I count many of them in the same regard as family. It matters a lot who our friends are. They will help shape our beliefs, spur our ambitions, challenge us, teach us, comfort us, open doors, or help close them. Friends are important. So what can a parent do when their child is drawn to the wrong crowd?
When one of my daughters was in 5th grade she had a close friend who lived nearby. I noticed my daughter’s behavior starting to become more rebellious as they spent more time together. So we invited her over for a sleepover. We quickly discovered the problem. This child had some serious issues that were very apparent when engaging in conversation. She talked about things way beyond her maturity level, she broke a door in our home and found it funny, and she displayed an inner anger that was going to lead to bigger problems. That very night my daughter and this friend wound up getting themselves involved in picking on another child via YouTube. That was it for that friendship. Parents were called, apologies made, and punishment handed down for ours. My daughter was not allowed to be friends with her anymore. That’s a hard thing for a parent to do. So what are some of the ways a parent can guide their kids to make solid choices in who they spend time with? Here are some ideas.
Perception is Reality
Reputations matter and must be protected. It’s not always a fair process, but our reputations are based on our actions. What makes a bad crowd is the poor decisions they are making: drinking, drugs, sex, crime, bullying. These are the influences we’re looking to steer our kids away from. Whatever the perception of us that’s out there becomes the reality, even if there are parts of the story left out. For instance, my child’s friend was in 5th grade and it couldn’t be all her fault that she was like that. There was a bigger picture. But my responsibility is my own child, and the reality was I had to protect her from influence negatively affecting her development. We place great emphasis on instilling strong character and good decision-making skills in our children. We make sure to fill them up with the things that will benefit them (and society) as they become adults. Morality, manners, compassion, and understanding that actions have consequences. Reputations matter and must be protected.
What tools do we have to keep our children isolated from crowds they need to avoid? Curfews, technology rules, and consistent punishment for rule breaking are the basics. But what if your kid has plummeting grades, has become involved in drinking and drugs, and has had a major attitude shift? The root cause has to be brought to light. If a child is drawn to destructive things and people, we need to know why. Professional therapy and family counseling might be required if serious parent/child communication isn’t working. We can’t expect to change other kids not under our care. But we can control the environment within our own home. Find the root and set out to correct it.
Get to Know the Other Parents
If your child is spending large amounts of time with other kids, it makes logical sense to get to know the other parents. The apple rarely falls far from the tree of which it came. This is not at all to say that seemingly perfect people have perfect kids. Judgment and pre-conceived notions have no role here. It’s about who the parents are as people, their belief structures, the rules they set for their own kids, and knowing whether those are compatible with your own. If not, then a decision has to be made about how to proceed regarding the children’s friendships.
Talk About the Future
What type of person does your child hope to be one day? What are your own dreams for them? These are important conversations to have frequently, as the answers from them will change as they do. By doing this, it shapes who they want to spend time with. Lost children find other lost children because they are seeking some semblance of unity and a place to belong; this is why gangs thrive. Talk about the future constantly and always provide hope for your child. It’s hard being a teenager. Show them it’s only a temporary state.
Sound off: What would you do if your kid started hanging out with a bad crowd?
Huddle Up Question
Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What makes a true friend?”