You're turned off by the wise-guy tone of your son's best buddy. You're concerned about the aggressive pal your three-year-old adores. You can't stand the come-hither look of your daughter's BFF. Or you fear the absolute worst: drugs, sex, trouble with the law. In a nutshell, you're not happy with your child's choice of friends. At what point should you fear that a pal could influence your own child's behavior and increase his chances of getting into trouble? And how should you intervene? Here are a few parenting secrets to help you navigate one of the tougher issues you might face when it comes to raising kids.
- Ask questions and listen. Try to find out just why your child is attracted to this pal. The answer can be very enlightening: Is your child bullied and in need of protection? Has the clique just booted her? Is he lacking friends? Does that kid have video games you don't allow? The right questions -- calmly asked -- can help your child think the matter through and decide if this person is really a good friend. Halt the judgments, and gather the facts.
- Make your house kid-friendly. It will help you get to know your child's friend. In addition to feeling more comfortable because you know where your kid is, you'll also be able to keep your ears open to determine if your concerns are really grounded.
- Ask other adults. Talk to a parent, teacher or coach who knows the kid. Do they share your same concerns? The school counselor can often offer a different, fresh perspective.
- Monitor closely. Stay in contact and know where your child is going at all times. (Kids are most likely to get into trouble between 3 and 6 p.m.) Also, try to get to know the pal's parents. Do they supervise their kids? How do their kids act with their parents?
- Keep her busy. The best way to limit the time your child spends with an undesirable friend is to find other things for her to do. It doesn't always work, but arranging activities your child enjoys and filling her social calendar is worth a try.
- Watch for red flags.The secret is to look for changes you've noticed since your child began hanging out with this companion. Have you noticed slipping grades, missed curfews, raunchy language, hitting, or a new level of defiance? Those are real red flags that this pal is becoming a negative influence.
- Share your concerns. Instead of judging or criticizing your kid's companion (that's guaranteed to end the conversation), describe the changes you see (slipping grades, surly attitude). Then restate (again and again) your family rules and values, as well as consequences for unacceptable behavior.
- Step in when serious issues emerge. If the pal is clearly a "bad influence," it's time to draw a halt to the relationship. This may be easier said than done. You might need to consider the extreme: a new school, a summer camp, a month at a relative's home, or even moving. In some cases extreme action may really be the only option to prevent a potential tragedy.
- The Parenting Secret: Keep in mind that a kid is rarely "made bad" by another kid, but the friends your kid chooses to hang around with sure can increase the odds that he may--or may not--get into trouble. If this kid could damage your child's character, reputation, or health, it's time to step in.