Should you try to break up the friendship or just let it be? Parenting experts share their thoughts.
https://www.huffpost.com-By Kelsey Borresen
Kathleen Finlay via Getty Images
To meddle or not to meddle? Parenting experts explain how to handle this sticky situation.
It’s an issue many parents will run into at one point or another: Your kid is hanging out with someone you’re not crazy about.
You might think this friend is a bad influence because of the language they use, the way they treat other kids or speak to adults, or their attitude toward school. Maybe this friend has been mean, controlling or otherwise inconsiderate toward your child.
Whatever the reason, it can be a tricky issue to navigate. Below, parenting experts offer advice on how to handle the situation.
Do some self-reflection.
First, take a little time to consider what exactly is rubbing you the wrong way about this friendship. Are your feelings warranted — or is it possible you’re bringing your own baggage to the table?
“Do you dislike the child because of your personal values, prejudice or opinion?” Amy McCready, founder of Positive Parenting Solutions and author of “The Me, Me, Me Epidemic,” told HuffPost. “Your child may be benefiting from this friendship or have more in common with the child than you may realize — even if you wouldn’t choose this friend for yourself.”
Or perhaps your feelings toward this friend are misplaced. You think you don’t like the kid when really, it’s the parents you have an issue with.
“In today’s charged political and social climate, parents can be faced with interacting with families that don’t align with their views,” clinical psychologist Cindy T. Graham — founder of Brighter Hope Wellness Center — told HuffPost.
Ask your kid about the friendship.
Put aside your preconceived notions for a moment and have a conversation with your kid about this friend. Ask why they like hanging out with them and what they enjoy doing together. Be curious and listen to what they have to say. This requires an open heart and mind, Graham said.
“Aside from being a great opportunity to connect with your child, it gives you the chance to learn about aspects of the friend’s personality, demeanor or circumstances that you may not have previously been aware of,” she said.
“For example, sometimes kids can present as immature or standoffish when under stressful situations,” Graham continued. “Moments that trigger anxiety ― such as meeting unfamiliar adults ― can lead to behaviors that may be perceived as disrespectful.”
Try also putting yourself in the kid’s shoes. Think about the struggles they — or their family — might be facing that could be affecting their behavior.
“Take into consideration what they may be going through or have gone through,” McCready said. “Your own kid or family may be just what this child needs!”
Get to know the friend and their parents better.
Spend some time with the friend and their family — it might show you a different side of them. Go into the experience hoping to see what your child sees in them.
“It’s also helpful for the parent to be willing to get to know the family on a few different occasions,” Graham said. “This will give everyone a greater chance of getting past the initial anxieties of making a good first impression to instead get to know one another.”
Judge the behavior, not the person.
If the friend in question does something you don’t like, it’s OK to tell your child that their behavior concerned you. But resist making accusations or assumptions about the friend’s character because of it.
“You can comment on a friend’s behavior that you disapprove of and help your child problem-solve why that behavior may be something they shouldn’t mimic,” McCready said. “The bottom line: Judge the behavior, not the person.”
“Friendships that are less-than-ideal aren’t necessarily a recipe for disaster or a path to trouble.”
– Amy McCready, founder of Positive Parenting Solutions
If you think the friendship is a danger to your child, step in.
There’s a difference between not being particularly fond of your kid’s friend and feeling like this person could be a true threat to your child’s safety or well-being. If it’s the latter case, you should intervene immediately, McCready said.
“If you’re concerned, set limits — without prohibiting the friendship,” she said. “Keep a close eye on behaviors and offer your home as a hang-out spot to keep your eye on the kids, or set an earlier curfew when your child is hanging out with that friend.”
Look out for negative changes in your child’s behavior that could indicate the friendship is an unhealthy one. For your child, that might mean a worsening mood, a sudden change in their grades or withdrawing from activities they once enjoyed.
If you notice any of these signs, “then parents would want to look into the social dynamics with the friend more closely,” Graham said.
Talk about what it means to be a good friend.
Use this situation as an opportunity to have conversations about what healthy friendships look and feel like. Discuss important qualities like trust, respect and standing up for one another.
“Highlight the differences in how you feel in a healthy friendship — inspired, accepted, safe, encouraged, hopeful, versus the emotions that come from unhealthy, toxic relationships — feeling anxious, disrespected, put out, pressured to do things you don’t want to do, or like you’re constantly in competition with your friend,” McCready said.
Try to remember what it was like to be a kid yourself.
It’s normal for kids and teens to go through different phases as they try to figure out who they are.
“Many kids who may have seemingly off-putting personalities are going through a phase that many of us go through,” Graham said.
Consider this: When you were younger, perhaps you weren’t always the kind of kid your friends’ parents were thrilled about, either. Keeping that in mind “could help you to be more kind towards your kids’ friends,” Graham said.
Also, remember that your kids are growing up in a different time than you did.
“Often what was once considered unacceptable can change over time,” Graham added.
Keep things in perspective.
Friends come in and out of our kids’ lives. Just because these two are buddy-buddy right now doesn’t mean they’re going to be inseparable forever (even if it feels that way).
“Understand that these may not be your child’s friends for life and statistically, they probably won’t be,” McCready said. “According to a study, only one percent of friendships formed in middle school are still going strong by the 12th grade.”
Agree to disagree.
It’s a fact of life: You’re not going to like everyone your kid is friends with, and that’s OK. Sometimes an “agree to disagree” approach is the best thing for the health of your relationship with your child. (As McCready pointed out, trying to forbid the friendship could create a power struggle between you and your child — one that could push them away from you and closer to this friend.)
“There is a lot to be said for social relationships that allow a child to thrive and feel supported,” Graham said. “As long as the friend isn’t having a detrimental effect on your child, it may be best to accept that you may not always like your child’s choices, including their friendships.”
And remember: Even not-great friendships can turn out to be positive learning experiences for your kid. For example, it may help them figure out which qualities they value in a friend or teach them how to set and hold boundaries.
“Friendships that are less-than-ideal aren’t necessarily a recipe for disaster or a path to trouble,” McCready said. “With your open mind and willingness to offer counsel, your kids will navigate friendships with the proper support.”