Anna can’t wait for her mom to meet Sherrie, only the coolest friend she’s ever had! Having heard about her incessantly for days, Mom is rather surprised to discover that Sherrie seems to be quite materialistic. Proud of her designer clothes, Sherrie brags about shopping with her mom at all the hippest stores. Overhearing the girls talk about their friends at school, Anna’s mom finds Sherrie’s comments mean spirited and critical. Anna is so thrilled by the idea of being popular for once, that she seems blinded to the very real issues that her mother sees. Jake’s parents are struggling with similar issues. Just last week, Jake asked if his friend could come over after school. His parents agreed, never giving it a second thought. When Ian arrived, they were shocked to note that his T-Shirt had a highly suggestive message and picture on both front and back. Not only that, he barely acknowledged them. Dad happened to overhear a conversation between the two boys where Ian bragged about shoplifting at the local 7-11 store.
Parenting strategies used to deal with these situations will depend in large part on the age and stage of the children involved. During the elementary school years or fire stage of development, it is quite easy to discourage such friendships. Our children need and want our guidance even though they may initially resist. Insisting on supervised play dates, talking to them about your concerns and encouraging them to cultivate other friendships is usually all the intervention needed at this age.
During the later, airy stage of development in middle school, children are not always as easily diverted or re-directed, and can feel drawn to forbidden friendships as a form of rebellion. Keeping the lines of communication open and giving your child some freedom to explore, while providing healthy limits are the best approaches. This means talking about what you like and don’t like about this friend, allowing them enough space to explore the friendship further and decide for themselves, while making some hard and fast rules (i.e. no unsupervised shopping trips or MySpace interaction). Allowing your child to experience the natural consequences that accompany such unhealthy alliances is often exactly what is needed to reinforce your parental messages. It is hard not to intervene when your child’s consequence involves law enforcement or school officials, but lovingly supporting them through this learning experience can prove life saving later on.
By the time your child reaches the ether stage, their decisions are largely out of your hands. All you can do is trust in the earlier guidance and intervention you so wisely provided them. Sometime during this school year, you may have to deal with difficult friendships or alliances that your children make at school. Proactive parents have a plan in place and aren’t afraid to implement this plan before disaster strikes. Reactive parents aren’t prepared. This lack of preparation can lead to immobilization and the inability to make a decision or react calmly. Or, conversely, these parents can over react and impose harsh or unrealistic consequences. Deciding ahead of time how you will deal with this situation is the difference between “proactive” vs. “reactive” parenting.