By Sophie Barcant,
BA (Psyc), B.ED
Trainer, Facilitator, Parenting Coach/Consultant
Our children are in new schools, classes and activities and one of their primary needs is to be accepted and feel like they belong. Most of us feel deep concern and somewhat helpless when our children choose friends who appear to lack motivation and discipline.
Friendships become closer and more important and play a key part in allowing adolescents to sort out who they are and where they’re headed. But some of these friendships can literally take them down slippery slopes to tragic ends.
Teens tend to be attracted to others similar to themselves and with similar interests. Those with low self-esteem will gravitate to each other, so too those who do poorly in school and tend towards mischief.
They influence each other in the taste of music, fashion, activities and even attitudes and academic performance.
Research shows however, that young teens are more inclined to turn to their parents than to peers for guidance in deciding what post-secondary school plans to make, what career to select and what religious and moral values to choose, but mostly when the bond is good.
Their chances of building good relationships out there are much higher if they have good relationships at home. When their needs for recognition, acceptance and affection are well met at home then they don’t need to seek them outside the home.
Teens dedicated to a sport with feelings of high self-worth have no need for approval from peers and tend to have healthy relationships and are not as easily influenced.
So what do we do when they choose to hang out with the mischief-makers and peers who have opposite values to ours? We have zero control. We must instil in them the motivation to want to be with like-minded peers who hold similar values.
This tip worked for me: I told my children that their friends were very lucky to have them as friends as they (my children) are such responsible and conscientious people.
I suggested they be mindful to let their good qualities rub off and influence their friends rather than their friend’s questionable attitudes rub off on them. I invited them to be the hero for their friends and bring them up, raising their values.
We would have loving conversations about how sad it was that some of their peers are raised in homes where the parents are emotionally or physically absent and how much those peers are in need of love, acceptance and recognition.
Criticising our children’s choice of friends can result in resentment, reduction of trust in us, deceitfulness and may lead to a stronger bond between them.
We should certainly discuss lovingly with them our reservations we have about friends of questionable character and let them know why. Let’s remember though that demands and commands create resistance. We provide a safe space for them to confide in us when we hold off on angry ranting, lectures, threats and punishment.
Let’s have conversations with them that can help them avoid risky and unhealthy behaviour and how to get out of bad situations. Let’s enlighten them to wisdom of discerning personalities who may be manipulative and who may want to use them. It helps to get to know their friends and their friends’ parents, too.
Your child’s own conscience will guide them when they see how serious you are to get to know their friends. Invite their friends over and you will be surprised that your own child will not want to bring home friends of questionable character. This could lead to interesting and revealing conversations.
It takes a lot of mindfulness to protect our precious children from the influences out there. We cannot monitor them on our own. May we all turn to our Lord, our Lady and their Guardian Angels for help.
Here are links with practical tips on this topic.