July 21, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

I Don’t Like My Kids’ Friends

Consider the following exchange between Jack and his mother:

Jack:I would really like to go to Brian’s house for a sleepover. A few other kids in the class will be going as well.

Mother: Well, I don’t really like Brian so much! I don’t like it when you guys are together!

Jack: Why, what are you talking about? He is a really good friend of mine!

Mother: It doesn’t matter, you are just not going!

In the above example, we see that Jack’s mother does not approve of a specific friend.Jack’s, but does not communicate the reasons for her lack of approval. This seems to make Jack very angry! The ‘cutting-off’ statement by the mother, “You are just not going!” does not seem to help either.

When addressing the topic of “Not Liking your child’s friends,” I want to begin by relating the following line that a parent recently related to me:

“I know that I have control over my kid until he reaches middle school, maybe the beginning of high school. After that, there is not much I can do when I don’t like something that he does.”

The above statement is very powerful because it allows us to reflect on the delicate balance between controlling our kids’ choices and empowering them to make their own choices.As parents, when do we control our children’s choices and when do we allow them to make their own choices? And, how does this balance work when there is something that I, the parent, really don’t approve of, but I am not quite sure whether I should raise the issue or leave it alone? This question becomes more challenging when friendships and peer groups become a very strong part of a child’s identity. As parents, we may feel that at a certain point, we almost have no right to infringe on the lives of our children.

However, I feel that at every stage of child development parents should feel that there are opportunities and ways to address any area in their child’s life that bothers or troubles them. And yes, this does not have to exclude talking to your child about their choice of friends. The key,however, is to communicate. One must utilize communication skills to express your opinion but to also listen to your child’s opinion. Your child needs to sense that “you get it.” Your child needs to believe that even though you (the parent) may disapprove of a specific peer related interaction, you also fully understand why this particular friend or this peer group is important to them.Your validation does not necessarily need to stand in the way of setting firm guidelines and/or consequences, but it needs to be clear to your child that you value their feelings and input as well.

Consider the example of Mrs. Langford, who gets a call from a parent that her son Jonathan and his best friend Charlie were bullying David on the bus:

Mrs. Langford: Jonathan, I received a call from David’s mother today that you and Charlie were teasing him on the bus. Can you tell me what happened?

Jonathan: So I was sitting next to Charlie on the bus and all of a sudden, he started to make fun of David’s clothes. I thought that it was kind of funny so I sort of joined in!

Mrs. Langford: Okay, thank you for your honesty. Don’t you remember that we had a talk about Charlie’s behavior last week! Remember the time that he came over to the house and started using foul language in the backyard! Don’t you remember the talk we had about having fun without using foul language!

Jonathan: Yes, I remember.

Mrs. Langford: I am becoming a little concerned about your friendship with Charlie. It is probably very difficult to make good choices when others around you are not, but making good choices is something that we discuss at home all of the time! In this situation, do you think that you could have done anything differently?

Jonathan: Well, I could have told Charlie to leave David alone or maybe tried to make a joke to change the conversation away from David’s clothes!

Mrs. Langford: Yes! And maybe you should give some thought to whether Charlie is a real friend if he seems to always be picking fights, bullying kids and using foul language.

So in this example we see the following:

Mrs. Langford asked David what happened without immediately assigning blame to David or forbidding him to invite over Charlie ever again;

Mrs. Langford listened carefully to David and promoted a healthy dialogue without ever cutting off the lines of communication;

Mrs. Langford helped David to reflect on what happened and assisted him to make better choices in the future.

So when assessing the question of “I don’t like my kids’ friends,” here is a list of important questions that we need to ask ourselves:

Did I communicate to my child the specific issue that is bothering me?

Did I also listen and give proper time and consideration to my child’s feelings?

Did I validate and show understanding that this friendship is important to him?

Did I teach my child to make better choices in the future?

There are of course situations that may demand consequences or more firm guidelines relating to harmful social interactions, but our roles as parents when it comes to our kids’ friends does not only need to be one of control. Instilling values, communicating and listening respectfully are invaluable “seeds” that we plant inside our children to help them make positive choices.

Mark Staum, LCSW is the school therapist for the PTACH program _ MTA and maintains a local private practice in Teaneck, NJ. For questions about this article or to speak directly with Mark, please contact him at mstaumlcsw_gmail.com

By Mark Staum, LCSW

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