The Character Movement

Our Children’s Friends

Often parents ask me what to do when they don’t approve of their children’s friends. As someone who’s worked with kids his entire life, I feel this one deep down. Whenever I’m at a school, I see with crystal clear vision the selfish, manipulative, petty and, at times, outright cruel exchanges that happen between kids. As an adult, it’s so easy to see which children are “good” and which ones are “bad influences.”

But it’s only because I’m looking at kids through the eyes of an adult. They don’t see the world as I do. They’re still learning the difference between a good friend and a bad friend. And they’re going to be learning it for a long time.

We don’t want to stage manage our kid’s lives. It’s not fair to them and it’s exhausting for us. But because our opinion matters and we’re trying to be reflective parents, we can – and must – take steps that contribute to them figuring it out on their own.

One approach is to have conversation with your child about what friendship means to them. Give them the opportunity to talk and let them tell you what they think a good friend is. Don’t judge them if they say things like, “a friend should be fun to hang out with,” or something that deals more with the surface. But do offer your own values. Let them know that friendship means respect, fairness, a spirit of give-and-take and so on.

I’ve found talking about my own friendships with Tess can illuminate the values I want to see in her friendships. Often I like to share stories about my friends that are funny or entertaining in some way, but make sure to tell the moving and difficult stories as well.

Kids need to see that friendship is about more than fun and that the true-blue friends in our lives have incredible influence over our success and well-being. Our children may be a long way from learning the value of friendship on their own, but if we give them a model for what a good friend is, then they’ll be more likely to recognize good friends on their own.

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