For every parent this is a continuous concern, and even more so when you have teenagers. Every time they go out the door, an endless amount of doubts and worries regarding our children’s present and future friends run through our minds. We wish we could be next to them to give them advice each time they start a new friendship that we know will have a negative or harmful influence on them. In reality, only within our own home we can have an influence over the environment that surrounds them however; many of us parents do not take advantage of this opportunity to make use of this influence. The degree of positive influence we may have on them will depend upon how and when we make use of it. The home is the mold where children are shaped and the quality of the product depends on the quality of the mold.
Regarding the subject of friends, most parents wonder: How come my kids have one or more undesirable friends? These are some of the main causes:
1) Lack of parent guidance
2) Lack of understanding who is a real friend
3) Lack of judgment to identify their own values
4) Lack of judgment to pick out friends who share their values
1. Parent Guidance
From this first cause originates most of the problem. Many parents try to advise their children regarding their friends or censure them after the friendship has started instead of doing it before. How many times do we sit down with them to give advice or guidance showing them what to look for in a friend before they pick one? What aspects should we focus on when we teach them how to pick friends?
2. Understanding Who is a Real Friend
If we analyze the second cause and ask ourselves, what’s friendship? or who would be considered a real friend? most of us accept the following definitions:
* An acquaintance is someone we’ve known recently or have seen more than once, but have had minimal contact with.
* A mate is someone who is part of our group or shares activities with us, someone we see or talk to frequently and who we may like or dislike.
* A friend is someone we spend more time and have more things in common with than other peers, and whom we like and get to know better.
Many young people (and unfortunately a lot of the adults) mix up mates and friends in the same category because they don’t understand or don’t give any importance to the difference between the two. Certain behavior and decisions are proper or expected among acquaintances, others among mates and others among friends. For example, if we make a trip for a few days with an acquaintance, very likely there will be conflicts because his/her preferences or habits may be very different to ours because we don’t know him/her well yet. The third definition about friendship, is one most of us accept and use. However, if we choose a business partner or our kids choose a roommate based on this definition, what would be the chances for a successful relationship? This definition is too general and is also another cause of the problem.
There are more effective questions our children should ask themselves before picking out a friend:
* If I were this person’s son (daughter), would I be proud?
* If I were a parent, would I like this person to date my son or daughter?
The next question is more appropriate for parents when choosing friends:
* If I knew I was going to die, would I leave this person in charge of my kids?
The way we respond to these questions will show the importance we give to this subject as well the good or bad relationships we have with our present friends. A better definition of a true friend would be “A friend is someone I admire and respect because of his (her) moral qualities which I share, someone I can count on and trust completely”. Of course, true friendship implies reciprocity, which means giving as well as receiving.
The role modeling we set for our children is the first step in teaching them the friend selection process because if we don’t know how to pick our friends, how can we expect our kids to do it?
Where is our common sense when we put more time and care choosing a new stereo system than choosing a friend? How many of us parents would keep our present “friends” if we ask ourselves these questions or if we apply this last definition? It’s very difficult to criticize our children’s friends when ours steal, cheat on their spouses, clearly neglect their children, abuse drugs or alcohol, use foul language etc. Most of us don’t know our friends’ values and therefore, there are instances when we feel offended or disappointed. We all know the old saying, “Tell me who you hang around with and I’ll tell you who you are”. There is another saying, funnier but more objective “If you want to fly like the eagles, don’t hang around with the turkeys”.
As parents, we understand and accept the importance of setting a “good example” for our kids and even though being a good role model should be mandatory because it is the biggest influence we may have on our children, it is NOT decisive in their upbringing. If role modeling could determine completely the influence we have on our kids, then how come there are children with a totally opposite or different behavior to that of their parents? How come there are children stealing merchandise from stores when we know their parents would be incapable of such acts? How come there are divorced couples even though their parents have remained together? There are plenty of examples, but the important thing is that we realize there are other factors affecting our children’s decisions and behavior.
3. Judgment to Identify Their Own Values
It’s crucial that we help our children to develop a good understanding of judgment so they may acquire moral values such as integrity, compassion, loyalty, honesty, kindness etc. This will not only help them to pick out better friends, but also to avoid many future problems both in their personal lives and their jobs. How can we talk or find out about someone else’s values when we don’t even know our own values, can’t identify them or just frankly don’t have any? The better we know our values and the more we focus on them, the less likely we will make friends with people who lack the same values.
4. Judgment to Pick Out Friends Who Share Their Values
Finally, it’s necessary that we explain to our children more in depth the importance of carefully selecting their friends instead of just “belonging” to a group. We need to make them realize they have to choose (and not wait to be chosen) their friends based on their own principles and values. We should encourage them to find out the moral values of each candidate to be considered a “good friend”. To ask their future friends how important to them are things like kindness, honesty, generosity, etc. Dennis Prager in his book “Think a Second Time” gives us a good suggestion to find out what kind of person we are dealing with. He says we need to observe how this person treats others, especially people from whom he (she) doesn’t need anything, for example, a waitress. See if he (she) treats her as an inferior person, as a servant or with the dignity she deserves. Most of us generally treat decently those from whom we want something – friendship, approval, sex, money, a favor or marriage. Many times a waitress can tell you more about an individual’s character in 10 minutes while it may take the person’s acquaintances many years.
Our duty as parents never ends. We must continue to learn and prepare ourselves so we may continue guiding our children. The best teacher is the best student and nobody is more interested in getting our kids to graduate from the University of Life than we, their parents. Every time they do something to make us proud as well as something to make us feel ashamed, we ought to look ourselves in the mirror. What we see in that mirror will be what they reflect to the people and the world around them.