Last weekend, I had a Zoom reunion call with about 30 people from my floor in my freshman dorm in college. Some of the people I hadn’t seen since freshman year. Others have woven in and out of my life at various times over the decades.
We were one of the most diverse groups of people you have ever met, but as we shared stories and memories, we realized what an impact those friendships from decades ago had on our lives. Some of the influences were little, like introducing us to new foods or musical groups. Others had us reconsider ways of thinking or influenced choices we made.
Your kids probably started making friends at very young ages. Those early friendships were primarily managed by you and the other parents through play dates. As your children grow older though, they will take the lead in their friendships. Some will be for a season, while others may last a lifetime. All will impact them in ways small and large.
As a Christian parent, you hope your kids choose friends who will help them grow and become their best selves. You pray for friends that will support their faith and beliefs. Are there things you should do as a parent to help guide your kids in their friendships? Are there things you should avoid? Here are eight of our best tips on navigating your kids’ friendships.
- Talk about the qualities of great friends. These conversations will take different forms, but should occur periodically over the years. Ask your kids what they look for in friends. Talk about your friends and why you chose them. Share about friendships that helped you and friendships that hurt you. Remember, as much as you want your kids to choose good friends, you want them to be a good friend, too.
- Be the host house. Make your house kid/teen friendly. You don’t have to own every toy and gadget. Often just the willingness to have them come over and feed a few extra mouths is a draw to your kids’ friends. It also helps if you can tolerate noise and have a sense of humor when things get a little silly.
- Actively listen when your kids’ friends want to talk to you. Most young people don’t have enough adults in their lives willing to really listen to them. You don’t have to have all of the answers, just caring enough to listen and ask interested questions makes a huge difference to many young people. Plus it gives you glimpses of their hearts.
- Ask your kids thinking questions. Don’t immediately give your opinion when your kids share something one of their friends said or did. Ask thinking questions instead. This is especially important if your child tends to react more than be proactive. What did your child think of what was said or done? How did they and others feel about it? What might it tell them about what the person is thinking or feeling? Some young people are more likely to reach an acceptable conclusion when you let them work it out instead of telling them. You just need to guide their thinking by asking questions that may not occur to them.
- Teach being kind to everyone, but allow them to choose their closest friends carefully. Most young people don’t have what it takes to take someone making a lot of poor choices and magically turn them into someone who makes great choices. They shouldn’t, however, be unkind or exclude others from playground games or lunch tables. It’s okay for them to have friends who are kept close because they are supportive, kind and make consistently good choices.
- Remind your kids they will often become like the people with whom they spend the most time. Because we were older, we were a little more qualified to pick and choose what we took away from our friendships in our dorm. Children and teens are not always that discerning. They need to think carefully if they want to be like the people in a friend group before they join it. Conformity is often expected and they need to be sure the group has norms with which they want to conform.
- Avoid forbidding friendships. Often, parents who struggle with their own relationships with their kids believe their only recourse is to demand their child no longer spends time with a friend the parent doesn’t like. This almost always backfires. It either causes resentment and places additional strain on your parent/child relationship or your child goes behind your back and continues the relationship. Neither is a good outcome. Often, working to improve your relationship with your child will eliminate the need they may feel to choose friends they know will irritate or disappoint you.
- Get to know the parents of your kids’ friends well. You don’t have to be friends with them, too. You do need to know, however, what sort of boundaries they set and enforce for their kids. This is especially important if your child will be spending time in that home. I can’t tell you how many horror stories I have heard over the years of kids being molested at sleepovers by a friend’s dad or given free access to inappropriate media, alcohol or drugs. Some kids will let you know when they have had a bad experience, but others won’t. Your kid will survive going to a “half” sleepover, rather than spending the night better than they will a traumatic incident. Most families are perfectly safe, but you won’t know whether or not your kid is safe until you know the parents.
Friendships in childhood and during the teen years can be a minefield. Staying involved, without controlling and micromanaging, can help your kids learn how to make friendships that will help them grow to be who God created them to be.