When You Worry about Your Children's Friends

When I recognized that my daughter’s best friend came from a family whose choices and lifestyle were very different from ours, I made sure to let Desiree know she was a special part of OUR family as well. We made sure she always knew we cared (birthdays, soccer games, etc.) and that we were there for her.
—Mary, Parent of four

It’s a tough spot to be in—to worry about a young person outside your own family—especially when the situation directly impacts you or your children.

Here are some suggestions for times when you’re just not sure you’re comfortable with what’s going on:

Tips for . . .

  • all parents
    • Remember that “growing” strong kids takes many caring adults. You can make a big difference for the children in your own child’s life. Take time to learn something about each of them and engage one-on-one with them whenever you can.
    • Know that there isn’t one right, tried-and-true way to be a parent or a family. Differences depend on the personalities of the people involved, so be careful not to jump to conclusions; find out as much as you can about a situation that concerns you.
    • Get to know the parents of your kids’ friends and their parenting approaches. If you have concerns that affect your own children, it’s important that you address them. For example, if you choose not to allow your child to have sleepovers at a certain home, talk to your child about differences in family rules or approaches, and find ways to have the friend over to your house where you are more comfortable with the rules.
    • If you ever believe that a child or teen is being physically or emotionally abused, contact authorities. If you don’t know whom to call, ask for advice from a physician, religious leader, or other person who works with families.
    • parents with children ages birth to 5
    • If there are adults in your life who parent in ways that are different from your own, do your best to separate your opinions from issues of real concern. If you do feel the need to raise your concerns about the well-being of another child, stick to facts as you know them and offer specific observations and examples. Most parents are very invested in their own parenting styles, so tread lightly.
    • Find time to engage other parents in supportive conversations where you can all share parenting tips and tactics. Most parents say they could use a stronger network of other parents in their lives. Play dates are great times for kids to play and parents to share!
    • If you find great books or Web sites that are useful, share them! Often, daycare centers and preschools have free lending libraries you can use.
    • parents with children ages 6 to 9
    • Talk openly with your kids about parenting styles, especially styles that are different from your own. Let your kids know why you choose to behave toward them the way you do. You can use books, television shows, or movies as examples, or you can talk about things you see happening “out in the world.” Then let them know that you’re always available to talk if they are worried or unsure about something that’s going on with their friends’ families.
    • Be sure your child knows that it’s okay to talk to you if he or she ever feels uncomfortable about the way another adult treats them or other kids they know.
    • Make your home a place where your children’s friends can come for a meal, safety, and fun. Make sure their parents know that their children are welcome in your home.
    • parents with children ages 10 to 15
    • This age group is very aware of friends who might be having problems at home or within their family network. Parents sometimes worry about their own child becoming a caretaker for a troubled friend. If you observe the caregiver role being taken on by your child, coach him on what he can reasonably take on and on what he can’t control. (Being a listening friend is a perfect role—friends don’t need to solve all their friends’ problems.)
    • Help your teen brainstorm names of other adults that her friend can connect with—people who can help find solutions to tough situations. And be ready to listen to your child when she needs to process information about her friend.
    • Be open to rearranging your home so that your children can enjoy themselves safely at home with their friends. One MVParent, for example, removed all alcohol from her home when she became worried that one of her son’s friends was drinking. By clearing out the alcohol, she could trust that her house was a safer place in which her son and his friends could spend time together.
    • If you are worried about the influence of the friends your child spends time with, now is the time to have the family conversation about curfews, how often your teenager should be checking in, which places are “off limits” (and why) and so on. These family rules are often negotiated every 6 months as children take more responsibility for their lives. Be prepared for “trial runs” as you see what works and how well your child takes on new responsibilities.
    • parents with children ages 16 to 18
    • Be the “safe place” and “safe person” for teens to go to when they are having trouble with their families or friends. Welcome them into your home at whatever level is comfortable for you. If a child actually “runs away” to your home, be sure they know you have a responsibility to let their parents know they are safe at your home.
    • This is an age when kids will go where they want to go, and often that’s wherever their friends are. If your teenager spends time in homes where parenting behaviors are ones you don’t agree with or where parents are frequently absent, work into conversations with your kids the possible consequences that might occur as a result of that parent’s choices or lack of availability.
    • Family rules are best when the whole family sets them and talks about the consequences. Revisit the rules every six months or so. Set your own family rules and keep them.
  • Help your teen learn how to help her friends. Make sure she knows that some information shouldn’t be kept secret. Together with your teenager, explore the Internet for information on programs, services, and opportunities for teens in your community. Suggest that if she has a friend in need, she should go with her friend to seek support from other caring adults.

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