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How to Help Kids Choose Friends Wisely

April 15, 2009

 “Young people who have friends who engage in problem behavior – delinquency, substance abuse, violence or school absenteeism – are much more likely to engage in the same problem behavior”  (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services).  On the other hand, friends who have healthy values and make wise life choices can be a positive influence on kids. 

None of the above comes as a surprise to those of us who are savvy, proactive parents.  (Go ahead, pat yourself on the back.)  But you may be a bit surprised – and very happy – to find out that the USDHHS website also notes that “study after study has found that parents can make a big difference in the choices their children make”. 

So there you have it in black and white:  our kids really do listen to us, and we do have the ability to teach our kids how to make good decisions.  A few caveats, though…Kids do listen to their parents – if they respect them.  They do take to heart parents’ opinons – if they know mom and dad live by the same set of rules they are expected to follow.  And they do remember the stories of hard-earned life lessons – if they admire the way their parents live. 

Now that we know we really do have a strong influence on our children and the decisions they make, how can we help them choose wisely when it comes to friendship?  I found a wealth of information on two U.S. government websites (I love opportunities to take advantage of my tax dollars at work – cancel my RSVP to that Tea Party!).  The U.S. Department of Education and the USDHHS Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) are both great sites with a ton of information and helpful links (see “Links” page for details).  I gleaned the following from the above, plus the American Academy of Pediatrics website: 

  • Talk about the most important qualities in a friend (such as honesty, being trustworthy, and making good choices)
  • Make your child’s friends feel welcome in your home
  • Help your kids make plans with potential friends; invite them over and offer to pick them up, if necessary (this is a great way to spend “unobtrusive” time with them and observe how they interact, what they talk about, etc)
  • Encourage your kids to join a church youth group, after-school club or sports program
  • Get to know their friends (and their friends’ parents)
  • Let your child know if you disapprove of a friend, and why; if appropriate allow playdates in your home where you can monitor/address anything you find objectionable; at the same time reinforce and encourage positive friendships (limit contact without creating a “forbidden fruit” cache)

The foundation of having the strength and conviction to make wise choices is based on self-esteem and a stable, secure home environment.  The bottom line is, if a child values and respects herself, she’ll choose friends who value and respect themselves, too.  And those kids tend to make smart life choices.  Savvy parents know they don’t need money or even the benefit of their own “Mayberry” childhood to provide these things for their children.  It’s a choice. 

So choose wisely.


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