As our children enter the teen years, friends become more and more important to them. This is normal, and appropriate for young people who are quickly approaching new levels of independence. But the parenting part isn’t done yet – parents still have a big influence on their children’s friend group.
Know their circles
When they’re little, kids tend to spend time with the people around them – neighborhood kids, classmates, and your own friends’ children. As your kids start to grow older and seek out their own friendships, this is a great opportunity to help them make good decisions.
There are many ways to get to know their friends without hovering over your kids. Allow your kids to invite their friends over to the house for an activity. Call the friend’s parents and introduce yourself. Go to your child’s school events and sporting events to get to know their peers. You’ll begin to identify what friends are encouraging your child, and what friends might be more of a negative influence.
Talk to your teens
Your teenagers may not open up to you in the same way that they did when they were toddlers, but kids are strongly influenced by their parents throughout their childhood and adolescence. You can ask structured questions, like “who was that new guy I saw you hanging out with at the park?” as well as unstructured, open-ended questions, like “What are some things you like about your new friend Matt?” Initiate conversation regularly, even when your child doesn’t seem to share a lot of information, to keep the lines of communication open.
Be careful about your tone of voice and word choice; if your kids believe you dislike their friends, they may shut down, and you’ll miss important information. Create an open dialogue, and if you are concerned about what you’re learning, talk to them about your concerns as an opportunity to problem-solve and think logically, rather than with blame or harsh judgment.
Don’t forget about social media
For many teens and pre-teens, their online lives may feel more “real” than the people and things around them. Know what social media sites your child uses, the apps they have on their cell phone, and the people they are communicating with through texts and other online activity. Extend your conversation and your supervision to their online friends. Your kids may be more tech-savvy than you, but your real-world experience can help to guide them through decision-making about their friend group and social experiences online. These are skills they need to learn, and parents are just the right people to teach them.