As Published on Essential Kids
The age-old saying goes ‘You can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family’. But when you are a child, does that rule still apply? Or is it the case that your family have the right to choose your friends?
It’s fair to say that, as parents, we all want our children to be surrounded by positive influences and the right attitudes from the moment they are born. We don’t want them hanging out with the ‘wrong crowd’, nor do we want them befriending the child who is going to lead them off the beaten track. But, yet, what we want for our children isn’t necessarily what we always get and as we can’t be with them all day, everyday very often this decision can be taken out of our hands.
*Alice Pacer noticed a change in her son’s behaviour recently when he switched from being enthusiastic about reading and homework to suddenly becoming very reluctant to participate in either.
“We saw such a change of attitude that we called a meeting with his teacher a few weeks ago”, says Alice. “It turns out that over the winter a new boy, who is a year older than my son, had entered the class and the two had become firm friends.”
Confirming her suspicions, the teacher advised Alice that the boys had been separated on many an occasion, and feels so strongly that this boy is a bad influence on her son that he has requested to the Principal that they not be in the same class next year.
”It turns out that the new kid never does homework and so my boy feels that he should not do it either,” says Alice. “So now we have the task of convincing my son that it is better to do your school work properly so you can have a better, chosen life later on. The friendship is not encouraged at all, but we can’t do anything to keep them away from each other at lunchtime and recess, and nor can the teacher.”
Louisa Apps, a teacher from Brisbane, concurs with Alice saying, “As a teacher you can’t tell children who they can and can’t play with. On many occasions I have had to step in to referee a fight within a friendship group about who should leave the group – the child trying to follow the parental instruction or the other child – and quite honestly, it’s impossible to solve!”
And Louisa, is certainly no stranger to witnessing how friendships can negatively impact children either, explaining one recent scenario in her classroom between 2 boys.
“Nick, was very manipulative, self centred, and arrogant, whilst Josh wanted to be part of the cool group of which Nick was the alpha male. Josh ended up being the fall guy for Nick and the rest of the group, doing silly things to try and fit in and repeatedly getting himself into a lot of trouble. We tried talking to Josh about how real friends should behave, but the desire to fit in was too strong.”
Whilst Josh’s parents were also very concerned about him, Louisa explained that they were also struggling to dissuade Josh from the friendship and, in the end, the situation only resolved itself when the boys went to different high schools.
In terms of advice to parents, Louisa believes that you should seek help from your child’s teacher, explaining, “While teachers aren’t miracle workers, they are with the children on a daily basis and, if they have a positive relationship with the kids, they can sometimes have more impact than parents.”
Louisa does advise parents however that they do need to be mindful that teachers can only act if there is a valid reason, and they can’t discriminate against a child just because a parent doesn’t fancy them as a friend for their child. She also forewarns complaining parents that they may end up hearing things they weren’t expecting or don’t like about their own child. “It can be the case that two nice kids can be a bad mix and each behave poorly in each others company.”
As a final piece of advice, Louisa says that building your child’s self esteem and resilience is really important. “This is really hard, but a child who can say no to their friends and stand up for what they think is right will be less likely to find themselves in these situations.”
Kimberley O’Brien, Principal Child Psychologist at Quirky Kid Clinic in Sydney echoes Louisa’s sentiments, pointing out that one of the biggest negatives of an unsuitable friendship can be the impact that it can have on a child’s self esteem. “The impact is not only in the short term,” says O’Brien, “but also in the longer term as adolescents mature and approach groups for friendships.”
O’Brien explains that effects of negative friendships vary dependent on the age group, but generally younger children will shy away from activities that they may previously have wanted to do, whilst adolescents are more likely to try to emulate their new friend, which can lead to even further negatives such as trying drugs.
As far as recommendations, O’Brien highlights the following;
• Try to get to know the other child’s family and see if it is a good match. You can pick up quite quickly if it is a good match or not.
• When they are older, meeting the other child’s parents can be more difficult, but maybe organising a coffee in your own space would help
• Trying to stop the child from seeing the friend is not always the right thing to do as this can often result in the friendship appearing more exciting to the child and result in them feeling that as parents you don’t understand them.
• Be the voice of reason
• Make a list of pros and cons with your child about that friend and talk through the real meaning of a friendship.
• Enrol your child in a social workshop such as The Best of Friends course offered by Quirky Kid Clinic