by Michelle @ nannypro.com
Helping your child to achieve an age-appropriate level of independence and to make friends outside of the home is a common goal for many parents. After all, every parent wants their child to be well-liked and well-adjusted, socially. When your child gets too old for structured play dates and supervised group activities, though, it’s not always easy to know exactly who his friends are or who he’s spending time with. At first blush, it’s tempting to let your child navigate the complex world of social interaction on his own until he comes to you with a request for help, especially if you’re concerned about being overly intrusive. There’s a difference between being a hovering “helicopter” parent and one that’s reasonably well aware of who your child is spending time with and what she’s doing when you’re not around. Rather than eschewing over-involved parenting to the point of dangerous aloofness, you’ll want to make an effort to know who your child’s friends are. These are five of the reasons why you should carefully consider your child’s social group, and the possible implications of him spending too much time with the wrong crowd.
- Bullying Happens Among Friends – If your child has a full social life and lots of friends, it’s easy to think that she’s been lucky enough to escape the scourge of bullying. What many parents fail to realize, however, is that bullying can happen within groups of friends, too. If your child is on the outside of her social circle, she may very well be bullied or pressured into things that she’d rather not do by a “higher ranking” member of that circle. When you know who your child’s friends are and what goes on in their group, you’ll have a better chance of discovering any bullying or advantage that’s being taken of your child’s eagerness to fit in with the rest of her peer group.
- The Question of Influence – When your child was a toddler, and even through the early elementary years, he probably thought of you as the smartest and coolest person in the world. As he gets older and more eager to establish an identity for himself separate from his family, he’ll begin to find more value in the opinions of his peer group. That’s when it’s most important to know who his friends are. Unless your child is exceptionally strong-willed, there will be times when he gives in to the influence of the crowd around him. Depending on who he’s spending time with, that influence could be a negative one.
- The Breakup Backlash – During the preteen and teenage years, friendships can be quite intense. This especially holds true amongst girls, whose closeness will often leave them referring to one another as “sisters” and spending every available moment together. Unfortunately, these passionate friendships can also have the tendency to crash and burn, leaving your child to deal with the fallout. If you have a decent idea of who your child’s friends are, you’ll be better prepared to help her weather that particular storm.
- Parental Supervision – Your child wants to invite his friends over, but he also wants to spend time at his best friends’ houses. When you don’t know the children in question, it’s a safe bet that you don’t know their parents, which is just asking for trouble. Before you send your youngster packing to a buddy’s house for the weekend, you’ll need to make sure that you have a basic idea of the house rules and that you know your child will be appropriately supervised throughout the visit. The last thing you want is for your curious child and his buddy to get into a liquor cabinet or engage in other illicit activities just because there’s no one there to stop them when curious impulses take over.
- Avoiding Unfair Accusations – Kids’ behavior will go through a series of metamorphoses over the years between elementary school and adolescence as they try on various personas. When those behavioral changes are negative, however, you’ll need to be able to get to the root of them as soon as possible. If you have no idea who your child is hanging out with or the things that they do when you’re not around, you won’t be able to tell how much of their questionable behavior is a result of a bad influence and how much is actually his own idea. Getting to know your kids’ friends can help you to avoid the embarrassing and unfair characterization of good kids as “bad kids,” a label that can come back to haunt you when the kids in question are shown not to be a negative influence.
It’s not always easy to get to know your child when she approaches adolescence. So many things about your child will change, especially her level of attachment to the family unit. Understand that this exploration is both natural and necessary, but don’t give your tween such free reigns that you’re not even sure who her friends are.