When Your Child's Best Friend is a Bad Influence
Every parent’s worst nightmare is that their child will fall into the wrong crowd, whether their little darling is seven or 17. At best, their friends might treat other people with rudeness and disrespect. At worst, they might encourage your child to take part in behaviour you frown upon, from smoking to stealing - or worse.
So what do you do when your child’s best friend is a “bad influence”? Grin and ignore it? Forbid them from ever seeing their friend again? Or take control of the situation, setting strict ground rules that allow you to keep an eye on what’s going on?
How you handle your child’s relationship with his or her best friend is bound to have a knock-on effect on your child, who might be more inclined to continue the relationship if you forbid it. For best results, talk to your child, agree on a mutually acceptable solution, and don’t be quick to judge.
Younger ChildrenWhen your son or daughter is very young, the people with whom they have the most contact are usually those you introduce them to – a nursery nurse or little ones from your approved baby group. But when they get a bit older, they begin to seek out friendships on their own.
For many children, beginning pre-school is the first time they actively seek their own playmates. You might want them to become best mates with the small, polite child who likes to colour and play gently with dolls. They might choose the big, burly boy with the loud voice who picks his nose and hits.
Talk to your child, and tell them there are certain behaviours that you dislike – and explain why. Helping them understand why some behaviour is acceptable – and some isn’t – is an important part of learning, and better than concentrating on the traits of a specific individual.
Hopefully, a frank and open discussion will help them make better choices when they get older – both in their own behaviour and in their friendships.
Slightly Older ChildrenWhen children get older, many gravitate towards children who are the life of the party, leaders rather than followers. Many pre-adolescents are testing their own boundaries, and look to you for limits. Yet they also are influenced by other children whose own limits differ greatly from their own.
At age nine and up, kids often compare themselves to other children, and what their parents allow them to do. “But Harvey gets to do it!” they complain. “How come Harvey can stay up until midnight and eat junk food all the time? Harvey never has to do homework; why do I?”
Have a sit-down with your child, and tell them that everyone’s different – and that parenting styles are different as well. What’s right for Harvey may not be right for them. Helping to build a strong moral character in your child will help them differentiate between right and wrong, and make the right choices – instead of looking for instant gratification.
Advice for TeenagersMost teenagers naturally want to decide who their own friends are. Yet sadly, they are not always fully equipped with the tools necessary to make sensible choices, and instead are heavily influenced by peer pressure and the desire to be part of the crowd.
The first thing to do is avoid labelling their friend as a bad influence. Sit down and have a heart-to-heart conversation with your teenager, but don’t forbid them from seeing anyone. This issue is about more than who they are hanging out with; it’s about making the right life choices.
If your teen is reluctant to hear home truths from you or your partner, it might be worth getting a third party involved. If you have a friend or relative who you think they might listen to, now’s the time to contact them.
Top TipsThese top tips for dealing with "bad influences" can help make all the difference...
- Safety should always come first. If your child has a friend who is putting him or her in danger, put your foot down. Nothing is more important than making sure your child is safe, however unpopular that might make you.
- Keep communication channels open. Be willing to listen to what your child has to say, and don’t dismiss their concerns. You might know that your child makes new friends and dumps old ones at the drop of a hat, but they might see things differently.
- Express to your child your own values and concerns, rather than your anger. Instead of repeating how disruptive their friend might appear to you, talk about your own feelings and hopes.