Your Kids’ Friendships: Exercising Your Influence

I had my first mom-to-mom conversation over a friendship issue with my soon-to-be 3rd grader, Gianna. I witnessed uncharitable behavior on the part of my daughter’s peer towards Gianna. Because it was the second time I personally observed such behavior, I decided to visit with her mom about it.

Fortunately, her mother and I are good friends and the conversation went very well. My point was that uncharitable behavior at this age is hurtful, but if it continues into middle school it can become quite toxic. She agreed. Not to justify the behavior, she did mention that part of the unkind behavior was related to a neighborhood friend. The mom described that her daughter is quite intense with tunnel vision about getting what she wants and that she and this neighborhood friend have been attached at the hip 24/7 this summer.

Alarm bells went off in my mind about the two important ways we as parents can exercise our influence over our kids’ friendship: regulating time with friends and influencing selection of friends.

The problem with letting our kids spend time with peers 24/7 is that we surrender our parental influence. Instead of having time with adults and the family with opportunities to teach, model charitable behavior, and correct uncharitable actions, our kids rely on observing their peers with partially developed brains and consciences to be their guide as to what is okay conduct. Kids need time with peers, but it needs to be balanced by time with families. Finding that magical ratio between peer time and family time does change with age. But uncharitable behavior and a lack of empathy are clues that kids are spending too much time with their contemporaries or even are putting too much value in the opinion and respect of their peers.

Influencing selection of friends is a longer-term proposition, very similar to the remote preparation for marriage. In his encyclical “Familiaris Consortio”, Pope John Paul II describes that parents prepare their children for a possible marriage vocation beginning at the youngest of ages by teaching them love, dignity, and to respect and be respected.

Preparing kids to make good choices of friends is similar; it is all about formation. You can’t make your kids like the kids you want them to like. But with good and early formation, your kids will be attracted to the kids who are behaving more congruently with the teachings of the Church.

When talking with a client I actually stumbled into a system that helps parents exercise proper influence over their kids’ friendships. Tune in for it on the next blog.

Catholic Women’s Guide to Healthy Relationships Tip: List your kids’ friends and assess their ability to empathize with others.