As children develop, they begin to make friends and lose friends. As infants, they interact with adults and engage in parallel play when other children are present. As they develop, they begin to interact more with other children. By early elementary school, many children have a best friend or a group of friends with whom they play regularly. In late elementary school, groups of friends begin to develop and by junior high and through to high school, groups of kids associate with one another. This helps them to prepare to enter into adulthood and leave the family.
A major worry for parents in the pre-teen and adolescent stage is the friends their child associates with and the kind of influence, for better or for worse, the friends will have on their child. What, if anything, can be done?
The values you instill in your child develop in childhood. It is important to remember that the values you instill, you must abide by yourself. This modeling of behavior exerts a powerful influence and should not be underestimated. Surrounding yourself and your family with others who espouse the same beliefs and values will help to reinforce your message.
By belonging to a community of people who have similar beliefs increases the chances of your child making friends with other children and, thus, sharing in the same belief system.
Media and peers are strong influences, too. Your child may engage in some behaviors that are not of your beliefs and values. Some of this testing behavior is normal and when done at home, allows the young person an opportunity to explore other ways of looking at things while staying within the family.
Studies have shown that there are a number of young people who engage in more antisocial activities such as robbery and drug use. The majority of these young people will pass through this phase and will leave behind the undesirable behaviors. There is a small minority who will continue on the antisocial path. So what can be done to prevent your child from becoming one of them?
The literature is quite clear on this and it is an answer that most teens will not want to hear. In those families where there was closer monitoring and supervision, there were fewer problems with behavior; this means setting limits on when you expect your teen home, consequences for noncompliance, asking who they are going out with, where they are going, etc. It also means that you need to reinforce responsible behavior.
The key to getting through this period is, as usual, communication. Regular family meetings, quiet times, one-on-one times can enhance the opportunities to talk with your teen. It will also provide the opportunity to talk about their friends and values. Attacking your child’s friends will likely only result in the opposite reaction to what you want. Try and keep an open mind and remember that you, too, likely had friends that your parents did not care for. Sharing this may open up the discussion about friends and give you the opportunity to express your concerns.
Foster relationships by encouraging activities such as sports, art, drama, dance, etc. Not only will it enhance your teen’s interests and skills, these activities will provide your teen the opportunity to meet others. An additional bonus of engaging in activities is the gain in self-esteem, which will help your child to stand up to others.
In summary, monitor your child’s peer groups and whereabouts. While this may not make you a popular parent, it will be good for your child by providing some guidance and direction. Encourage healthy friendships and activities. Instill values by living them and keep the channels of communication open.
Cameron Barr is a Chartered Psychologist.
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