"I would rather walk with a friend in the dark, than alone in the light." - Helen Keller
A child learns to make friends only after he has mastered certain social skills like sharing, empathy, initiating a conversation, and so on. However, while the art of developing friendship comes easily to a child, choosing the right friend requires a certain level of intellectual maturity that children don't possess. As a result, parents, sometimes take it upon themselves to judge whether they should allow their child to remain friends with a particular child or not. And, once parents label their child's relationship with his friend as undesirable, they can't resist the urge to interfere between them.
The problem with this approach is that most children don't take their parents' advice in the right spirit. They begin looking at their parents' counsel as attempts to curb their independence and choice.
To prevent such feelings from arising in your child, let's look at situations in your child's friendships when you should intervene and when you shouldn't do so.
Situations when you should interfere
When your child's friend -
Is leading him astray by teaching him bad habits or values (for example, to lie or steal)
Is manipulative and self-centered
Makes your child take the blame for mistakes that he (the friend) has committed
Acts in ways that impact your child's self-esteem
Doesn't stand up for your child
Has some communicable health problems
Has serious behavioral issues
Is casting an adverse influence on the relationship between you and your child
Is having an unfavorable effect on your child's academic performance
Is pressurizing or bullying your child to do things that may endanger his well-being (for example, encouraging him to smoke or try drugs)
Friendship is very important for children, as it helps them grow up into emotionally healthy adults. And, when it comes to their role in their children's friendships, it is important for parents to know their children's peer group. They should never directly involve in their children's decisions in making friends. They can provide timely inputs from their perspective; however, they cannot force their views on their children regarding forming or maintaining friendships. They can play the role of mentors or coaches and help children develop the ability to establish and nurture friendships. They should also make sure their children do not become victims of peer pressure. Only a cordial and democratic relationship with their children can help parents in playing this role effectively. - Rachna Sabu, Psychologist and Educator, Mumbai
Situations when you should not interfere
When your child has not been treated properly or has been hurt by one of her friends: Do not assume that your child is not at fault and try to take up her case with her friend
When there are minor conflicts between your child and her friend/s: Do not step in to set things right
When most of your child's friends are from the opposite gender: Do not influence your child to choose friends from her own gender
When among a group of friends, your child seems friendlier or favors to hang out, with only a few: Do not dictate who your friend should be close with
When your child has a wide circle of friends: Do not attempt to prevent your child from making too many friends
When your child wants to go out with some of her friends: Do not insist on including or excluding someone of your choice
When your child wants to identify with her peer group by something that she does: Do not forbid her from fitting into her group of peers (for example, by preventing her from wearing a particular type of dress for a specific occasion that she and her friends have planned to wear); however, a word of caution here - if the 'fitting in' to the group means wrong behavioral choice or bad habits, you must say a firm NO
When your child tries to help her friends by doing something for them (for example, sharing her school projects or pocket money with them): Do not discourage your child from doing this as children have strong emotional ties with their friends and love to help them
When your child tries to encourage or motivate her friend who is better than her to achieve something: Do not prevent her from assuming that her friend's achievement will overshadow her own; remember, children do not perceive their friend's success as different from their own
When your child has broken up with someone: Do not coax her to continue to be friends with that person
An article, '9 Bad Influences on Your Child (or You)' by Jennifer Bleyer in Real Simple quotes Timothy Verduin, Clinical Assistant Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine. According to Timothy Verduin, "If you want kids who are resilient, you can't isolate them from social pathogens. Think about the long view, that you're training them to handle less-than-ideal people and solve their own problems."
So, while you encourage your child to make friends, also teach him those skills that would help him make good choices. Not only would this prevent your interference, but would also allow your child to lead an independent social life.
Special tips for parents of teenagers
Be your child's best friend.
Encourage your teen to confide in you.
Evince interest in getting to know your teen's friend. If possible, arrange for your child's friend's family to visit you for dinner occasionally.
Learn to appreciate your teen's good friends.
Advise your teen on the importance of forming good friendships and let him know that you trust him to choose the right friend.
It is good to be a part of your child's online friendship circle. At the same time, understand where to draw the line; allow your teen his personal space.
Educate your teen on online safety and discourage him from forging friendships with strangers online.
Help your child manage his time well when it comes to engaging in online friendships. Ensure that he doesn't spend too much time on it.