Tis the season when children are finishing the school year and getting ready to embark on a summer full of activities and new friends. Of course, friendships are important and rewarding, but think about the powerful influence friends have over children. Undesirable behaviors and language are contagious as are concerns about body image and eating. Bullying can also rear its ugly head, even amongst “friends.”
So here's what you need to know about your kid's peers and why:
- How they behave when they're with your child.Observe the interaction between the kids, especially when they think you're not watching or listening. One of my daughter's friends threatened to “tell your mom on you” when the child was at my house. This later turned into a bullying issue that manifested itself at school. Listen for inappropriate language and whether they try to get around your House Rules. (Note: You can also learn a lot about YOUR child when you listen to them play with their friends.)
- How they interact with you. Is the child polite and respectful of adults? Does the child have manners? I've had kids go into my refrigerator and start rummaging through, looking for a snack. Others have demanded food instead of asking. And one kid decided to swing off a curtain rod (she didn't come back here again). Remember that behaviors spread and, honestly, I have NO problem reprimanding a guest.
- Who your child's friends' other friends are. You can tell a lot about a person by the company they keep. Do they hang out with snobby kids or an older, faster crowd?
- What kind of student your child's friend is. If the friend is one who believes in working hard and getting their homework done, it can inspire your child to do their best, too. But, if the friend hates school and slacks off, that will also influence your kid.
- Whether there are other family members or visitors in the child's household that you need to be aware of. This is especially true if your kid is having a playdate or going over the other person's house. Are there older siblings who might exhibit inappropriate behavior? Is there a nanny who will be taking care of the kids? One mother didn't tell me that she wouldn't be home for a playdate and that the nanny would be taking care of the kids. Since I didn't know the nanny, I was not okay with that!
When in doubt about the friend's family, try to get to know them by staying for a playdate or asking about them. I invite parents to come and stay! I get to know them and they see that we don't have any drugs, firearms, etc. around the house. One woman told me she'd asked around before letting her son come to play. I thought that was BRILLIANT and praised her for it.
Friends have a powerful influence over our kids.
Children are exposed to new ideas, values, and behaviors as a result of those relationships. By knowing as much as possible about who our children are hanging with, we can protect and teach our children what WE value and what needs to be left behind.