I remember walking to school with my best friend in seventh grade. She was dressed in camou pants and army boots. She had carrot orange hair that was spiked to the sky. I, on the other hand, was dressed in my cheerleading uniform and sneakers. She liked punk rock music, I liked Michael Jackson and pop rock. She was happy to make average grades. I busted my butt to earn a 4.0. We were so different, yet we got along great and treated each other with kindness and respect. My mom always wondered why we were such good friends, and I think she even worried a bit that my friend might influence me to her styles and interests. I give my mom a lot of credit for never meddling and trying to demand that we not be friends. My friend was completely harmless, but I think my mom still had some concerns.
I imagine that this is a common challenge that parents will face. Here is an interesting article about how to handle the situation most effectively, while keeping on your kids' good side.
By Thomas Haller and Chick Moorman
"You're not allowed to play with him anymore."
"I don't want you going over to his house again."
"You'll have to find different friends."
"She's not a good friend to have."
"You can't associate with him in the future."
The statements above are examples of Parent Talk designed to control your children's choice of friends. While this degree of control may be possible up to the age of eight or nine, your control stops there. After fourth grade you lose the power to choose your children's friends. Why? Because at this time in their life it is no longer possible to enforce your desires concerning this issue. If you can't enforce a command it makes little sense to send it.
While you lose your ability to control your children's choice of friends at that age, you do not lose your ability to influence who they choose as friends. If you accept the fact that your child is choosing her own friends, which she actually is, and assume that posture as you talk with her, you can have a positive impact on her thinking and her choices by using well constructed Parent Talk.
"I like the way your friend Ramone shares appreciation" and "William always helps pick up the messes you guys make" is Parent Talk that points your child to positive character traits in his friends. These kinds of comments help him to appreciate that you see the good side as well as the other side of his friends.
"Tell me what you like about Clarissa" and "What strengths do you see in Lynda?" are examples of Parent Talk that will help you understand the positives your child sees in her friends. Use a loving and interested tone as you pose these questions. If you fail to comprehend the strengths she sees, she will be less likely to take a serious look at the weaknesses you see.
"I hope some or your manners will rub off on him" and "Maybe your positive attitude can influence how he looks at the world" are ways to reinforce the strengths you see in your own child as well as to invite him gently to look at what you see in his friend. These examples reflect Parent Talk designed to get your child to think rather than to instruct him what to do about his friend.
Other Parent Talk phrases that invite your child to think include:
"I wonder if Marie makes fun of you when you're not present."
"I'd be kind of worried about feeling pressured to drink if I was with Kyra."
"Do you ever worry that people might think you feel the same way about Jews (Blacks, Hispanics, Italians, women, Christians) as Justin does?"
"Is it difficult for you to stick up for your other friends when Kevin starts to bully?"
"Why do you think there is a difference in your study habits?"
Advice your children have not asked for will fall on deaf ears. Orders will hit a brick wall. Non-judgmental information has a chance to get through and help your them think through an issue. Offer information free of judgment, ridicule, or sarcasm and you may develop the influence you desire concerning your children’s friends.
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