Let’s be honest. Friends can cause a lot of drama for kids and teens. Your kids will probably have struggles in this area from time to time. They may wonder how many friends they should have, worry about finding the “right” best friend, struggle with peer pressure or any number of other friendship issues.
They need your guidance. You can’t control their friendships, but you can influence them. The younger your kids are when you start teaching them about friendship, the easier it will be for them to handle whatever happens.
So what are some things you should be sharing with your children? There are a lot of things that may help, but these are some of our favorites.
- Teach them how to find godly, supportive friends. David and Jonathan are a great example of this type of friendship. They both worshipped and trusted God. They were supportive of one another under extremely difficult situations. Situations that would have made most people enemies. Talk to your kids about ways to find out if someone will be a Jonathan type friend to them. Help them understand the value of a friendship that will make them grow in positive ways.
- Teach them to be friendly to everyone, but choose close friends carefully. Kids and teens are more likely to become like the kids with whom they spend the most time. It’s a rare young person who would have the ability to convince a child who is constantly in trouble to change his or her behavior. It’s more likely your child will soon start to get in trouble with his or her trouble bound friends. That doesn’t mean however, your child should act in unkind or unloving ways to people whom they have not chosen as close friends. Their behavior should reflect God’s love to everyone – friend or not.
- Teach them the types of people who can cause them to move away from God’s plan for their lives. Sometimes, those negative traits are hard for young people to see. They may only notice outward appearances or common interests – missing the warning sides this friendship could change them in negative ways. Teaching them proactively – from places like the friendship wisdom in Proverbs – can keep you from having to point out the negative traits in a new friend.
- Teach them to be encouraging, kind, supportive, loving friends. Teach them by how you treat your friends. Discuss ways they can support, encourage and love their friends. Correct unkind and hurtful words and behaviors towards others. Help them correct bad habits that can annoy others and cause them to reject your children’s attempts at friendship.
- Help them develop multiple friend groups. Some children only need one or two close friends to be happy. Others will have lots of casual friends. Unfortunately, for many young people, they are only in one friend group. When the drama of their friend group becomes hurtful or annoying, they are left feeling they have no friends. If they have several friend groups – school, church, activities – it’s more likely they can find friendship respite in a friend group not currently involved in drama. It also lessens the effects of peer pressure from one group – their entire social currency is not invested in making that one group happy.
- When friendship blues happen, remind them of everyone who will always love them. Yes, they will quite probably roll their eyes or tell you that those people “have to love them” (so it doesn’t count). Deep down though, there is reassurance in knowing God, their family and others will love them in spite of any “mistakes” they may make.
- Give them hope for future friendships. Some kids are mature for their age. Or have special needs. Or are extremely talented. They may feel like there is no one in their current environment who really “gets them” enough to be a close friend. It can become discouraging – especially in the teen years. Explain to them that as they move towards college and/or a career path, they will move or specialize more. It is often in those environments they will find those friends who are more like them. Sometimes just giving them that hope for the future is all they need to move through their current friendship woes.
- Watch for serious signs of trouble and get help when needed. Falling grades, changing eating habits, lethargy, lack of interest in things they normally love, flat affect and other signs of depression are often red flags. Don’t let things go on so long serious issues like drug and alcohol abuse, eating disorders or suicide become a reality. Start having conversations to try and find the roots of the changes in behavior and attitude. If you feel like the problems are serious, get professional help for your child.
Friendships are essential for your children’s health and growth. Preparing them to choose and be great friends can make it easier for them to form friendships that will encourage them to reach their godly potential. It’s worth your time and effort.