Your son or daughter has a new best friend. The only problem is that through firsthand experience, or perhaps a second party, you know the new pal might be trouble. You are concerned that he or she will be a bad influence on your child, and as a parent you want to do everything in your power to keep this from happening. Here are three tips to find balance between respecting your child’s autonomy, addressing your concerns, and protecting your child.
Depending on the age of your child, you should encourage that their interactions take place when you are present. Not only is there less of a chance that the friend will misbehave, there is also a possibility of behavior modification. If you give the child who represents a bad influence good role models, learning and change can take place. With teenagers, you should first speak with your child about your concerns and hear his or her reasons for the friendship. If your child still welcomes the friendship, you should respect those wishes, trust the good judgment of your child, and simply keep the lines of communication open so that you can monitor their relationship and gauge the effects, either positive or negative, it may have.
Prohibiting a child from seeing any friend is not only unhealthy, it can lead to rebellious behavior. Rather than forbid the friendship, if you are absolutely opposed to it, find subtle ways to reduce the time your child spends with his or her friend. In order for this to occur, you should plan to spend more time with your child, have your child play with his or her siblings and relatives, and encourage them to spend free time with multiple, well behaved friends, which can include the problematic child, too. Just as there is safety in numbers, there is also security when you dilute the negativity or bad influence.
If your child simply insists on keeping this friend, despite your worries, reach out to your son’s friend’s parents. Invite his or her mother to your house for a coffee and explain your feelings. It would be a wise idea to have specific points to discuss as they relate to the well being of your child (“your child has been arrested three times”; “your child uses foul language that we do not use in this house”; “your child is aggressive with others”, “your child’s recreational drug use is unacceptable”). Ask the parent if you can work together to ensure a healthy and harmonious friendship, and let them know that if you begin witnessing unacceptable behavior in your child that you will reevaluate the status of the friendship at that time.
Allowing your child to choose and develop friendships is part of him or her evolving into a responsible, aware, and discerning adult. As parents we must remember that many of the friends considered to be a bad influence are, many times, simply going through phases or acting out insecurities. It is not our job to select our children’s friends, but instead to monitor potentially worrisome relationships, help our children make good decisions, and find ways to transform bad influences into good ones.