Vintage Parenting 101: Encouraging Healthy Friendships In Your Children’s Lives

As a part of my efforts to increase the accessibility of my website, I am re-posting articles from my old Parenting 101 page as stand-alone blog posts on the main site.

September 25, 2007 – “Encouraging Healthy Friendships In Your Children’s Lives”

Q – I want my children to have healthy friendships – not to become isolated and withdrawn, but also not to fall in with the wrong crowd. What do I do? I hear and see so many stories that really worry me!

A – First of all, referring you back to my July segment on Parenting 101, I urge you to let go of attempts to control your children and focus your energy on being the best possible influence. Certainly, the area of friendships is a very important one in your children’s lives, and you are to be commended for being aware of this and wanting to lead them well.

Q – My child is still fairly young, how do I lead or influence her/him in developing healthy friendships at this stage?

A – This may sound a bit contradictory, but remember that at this point, you do have a greater measure of decision-making authority during this time than during the later years of adolescence. As you make decisions about activities, events, and environments for your younger child, evaluate the other parents as much as you do the other child. Talk to the parents of your child’s potential friends about their experiences and perspectives on parenting. Do what you can to encourage friendships between your child and others whose parents have philosophies and lifestyles you respect. And remember that when your children are young, you really don’t have to offer big explanations about your decisions regarding their activities and such. Be authoritative – with a healthy mixture of compassion and firmness. They need you to be in charge, whether they realize it or not!

It is also important during the early years of friendship development for parents to make time to be present and involved in the activities that build these young relationships. In other words, don’t make it the norm to simply drop your child off at an activity and pick him/her up afterward. Participate as much as you can. Talk with the kids. Be hands-on. Get on their level. Do what you can to help your child begin establishing deeper connections with a few friends, rather trying to make sure they get to be a part of every potential social circle. More personal growth and development tends to happen in the context of ongoing close friendships than in the process of jumping from one social scene to another.

Q – My child is in the adolescent years. What should I be doing or not doing?

A – It is still important to work on open dialog with the parents of your child’s friends. However, keep in mind that with adolescence comes a growing level of independence and decision-making on the part of your child. Now it becomes even more critical to focus on influence, rather than control. Be aware of what Chap Clark refers to as “the world beneath.” Basically, this refers to a socio-cultural space that has been created by today’s adolescents, greatly facilitated by advancing communication and networking technology, where they can retreat from the pressures and expectations placed on them by the adult world. It is a world where they create the language and the rules – a world where they are in charge. It is so important for parents of teens to be aware of the existence and basic dynamics of this world.

Ideally, your teens can learn to live in both the “world beneath” of adolescence and the “world above” of adulthood and larger culture. They don’t have to retreat to the world beneath to stay. However, two parental factors can push them in that direction: ignorance of the significance of the world beneath and trying to bar them entrance altogether. Respectfully get to know your adolescent’s friends and discuss with her/him why these friends and networks are so important. Lead and influence through respectful, compassionate conversation.

Q – Should I do my best to make our house the cool hangout?

A – Yes and no. Do your very best to promote a home/family environment that is physically and emotionally comfortable and safe for your children and their friends, while maintaining important rules and boundaries. At the same time, don’t get caught up in trying to be some kind of fun-factory. Provide some reasonable choices of things that are interesting to the kids, and put your emphasis on that atmosphere of safety and comfort.

Q – What would you say is the most important thing here – what is the heart of the matter?

A – Whatever the age or stage of your children, be willing to experience your children’s activities, interests, and friendships without either defensive, judgmental rejection or taking over through over-involvement. Be the kind of parent your children and their friends can both respect and feel comfortable opening up to.

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