How to Be Involved in Your Child's Peer Relationships Without Being Controlling

By: Gene Roehlkepartain, Guest Blogger

As our kids grow up, we recognize that friends play bigger and bigger roles in their lives. They become romantic partners; they help teens develop social skills, try new activities, and provide them with lots of support and encouragement. Through their friends, kids figure out a lot about themselves and who they are becoming. Yet, young people who have trouble forming positive friendship relationships can struggle in many areas of their life.

On the other hand, we worry that our kids’ friends aren’t always good influences. They may isolate, tease, or bully each other. They may also promote attitudes and behaviors that we don’t like. And they can put a lot of pressure on each other to be sexually active, to use alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs, and to engage in other risky behaviors.

Even though we can’t (and shouldn’t) control kids’ relationships, moms, dads, and other parenting adults actually have a lot of influence their kids’ friendship choices and the quality of those relationships, including romantic relationships. Through both your modeling and your actions, you can guide your teens toward the kinds of positive peer relationships that help them make better choices and grow up successfully.

Consider these tips to help you be a positive influence on your child.

  • Model healthy relationships with others. The #1 place where kids learn about relationships is in their families. Their experiences with moms, dads, other parenting adults, and siblings have a lot of influence on how they find and get along with friends.
  • Maintain a positive relationship with your child. When parenting adults have positive relationships with their children, their children are more likely to form more positive relationships with their peers, including choosing healthy romantic relationships. A positive parent-child relationship is one that is warm, caring, and emotionally open while also setting boundaries and having high expectations.
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  • Encourage positive friendships. You can welcome your child’s friends to your home, support them doing things together, and encourage participation in activities with positive peer groups, such as school activities, youth programs, and religious activities.
  • Teach friendship skills. Help your child learn to strike up a conversation with someone new, show empathy and support to a friend, listen and ask questions, resolve conflicts, set appropriate boundaries, and other skills that lead to positive, meaningful relationships with peers.
  • Keep track of your child’s friends. Parenting adults keep track of where their children spend time, who they’re with, and what they are doing. Particularly for younger children and young teens, they work to ensure that adults are around when their child is spending time with friends. Then you have the opportunity to ask questions or offer additional encouragement for the friendship, depending on the situation.
  • Express concerns, ask questions, and set limits, when necessary. If you are uncomfortable with some friends and do not believe they are a positive influence, talk about your concerns with your child, teaching her or him how to think about relationships. Be open and willing to listen to what your child has to say about these friends, and also talk about what makes you nervous It’s best not to forbid a friendship, unless it is putting your child in danger.
  • Don’t jump to conclusions based on appearances. Don’t judge your child’s friends based on their dress, hairstyle (or color), appearance, interests, or other external factors. Remember that teens sometimes “try on” different identities and interests as a way of expressing their independence. Over-reacting with negative comments can make it less likely that friends will let you get to know them.
  • Do pay attention to warning signs. If your child is hanging out with kids who are much older, or if he or she is overly secretive about friends and what they are doing, monitor the situation more closely. Be less enthusiastic about these friendships. Your teen will sense your concern. If you have reason to suspect harmful activities (such as premature sexual activity, alcohol, tobacco, or other drug use), be assertive and clear about your concerns and your expectations.
  • Connect with your child’s friends’ parents. Get to know the parents or guardians of your children’s friends. You will often find that they share your values and priorities and that you can work together to ensure that the friendships are positive for everyone.
  • [Related Article: 7 Tips for Keeping Tabs on Your Teen]

  • Share your perspective with your child. When talking about a friend who you believe may be a negative influence, focus on the friend’s behaviors, not on her or his personality. For example, instead of calling your child’s friend irresponsible for smoking, you could point out that the behavior has a negative effect on her health and recommend ways for your child to help her quit.
  • Set boundaries. Teens can want to spend all their time with their friends or with their boyfriend or girlfriend. Insist that they also spend time at home and meet their other responsibilities. Be sure he or she participates in family gatherings and events (potentially inviting a friend to come along sometimes).
  • Investigate if your child doesn’t have friends. Some young people are introverted and don’t want or need a lot of friends. But spending a lot of time alone and not having any friends can also be a warning sign that he or she is isolated or having trouble with peer relationships. Ask her or him about it. Check with teachers or other school personnel to see if they have concerns. (Sometimes kids interact well at school, but need alone time at home.) Losing interest in friends for several weeks may indicate depression or other issues. You may also consider seeking help from a counselor if your concerns persist.
  • [Related Article: How I Helped My Child Overcome Extreme Shyness]

  • Keep your relationship as a top priority. Even if you are concerned about friends and their influence, do not let your worries drive a wedge between yourself and your child. Work hard to maintain your relationship, even while expressing your worries. When you express concerns, be sure to reinforce your love for your child. Your influence will be greater in the long run if you do what you can to maintain a positive relationship.
  • Eugene C. Roehlkepartain is Vice President of Research and Development at Search Institute, and creator of the 9 Parenting Strategies. Roehlkepartain is widely recognized as an expert in child, youth, and family development in community contexts. Particular areas of interest include family strengths, community supports for families and youth, spiritual development, service-learning, youth philanthropy, and linking youth development with financial literacy. Learn more about the 9 Parenting Strategies here.

    [...] Make your home a safe haven where young people can—and want to—hang out. More tips on how to be involved in your child’s peer relationships without being controlling &... [...]

    5

    Gene, you have covered this topic beautifully. I think the key is to begin early enjoying, bonding and listening to your child. Then as the relationship grows and develops, it can thrive. Open communication needs to continue into the teen years.

    For information and sample pages of an easy-to-use book, Kelly Bear Feelings, that can assist parents in developing the skills mentioned above, click below:
    http://www.kellybear.com/Kelly_Bear_Books/KBBooks-Feelings_Book2col.html

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