When Kids Make “Bad” Friends

One of the major worries parents have as their kids get older is whether or not their kids will make good friends. From their own experience, parents recognize that friends can have such a powerful influence over their kids – for good or for bad. Because of that influence, some parents enter into the trap of trying to control who their kids can have as friends. Once parents enter into a control battle over who they will allow their kids to be friends with, the parents have waged an unwinnable war that usually creates casualties on both sides and leaves the parent-child relationship strained if not broken.

Many of us know parents who have waged this war only to find that it fuels their kids’ desire to spend time with the kids who worry the parents the most. These parents say to their kids, “I don’t want you to hang out with that kid. I don’t think he is a good influence on you,” or, “why don’t you make better friends; those kids will only get you into trouble.”

When parents question or criticize their kids’ ability to choose good friends, the message they send their kids is, “You have poor judgment and faulty thinking if you choose those kids as your friends” or, “you can’t make good decisions on your own so you will probably just follow what everyone else is doing and get into trouble.”

Why do good, healthy kids from stable homes make friends with wild kids? Kids sometimes choose to make friends with those who walk on the wild side because they want adventure and excitement and wild kids create adventure and excitement. Just because our kids make friends with kids who walk the wild side, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will become like them; especially if we have given them opportunities to make plenty of mistakes and, with sadness and empathy, allowed them to feel the consequences for those mistakes.

Even though parents may feel a lot of anxiety over the choice of friends their children make, parents can do a lot to help their kids learn to make good decisions regarding friends and what they will do with those friends. As parents use opportunities to teach their kids, rather than restrain them, their children will be better prepared for when they push off and sail into the real world.

Here are some tips that parents can consider if they feel their kids are starting to make “the wrong kind of friends”:

– Parents can refrain from calling their kids’ friends “bad.” Since most people are not all bad, parents tend to lose credibility with their kids by calling their child’s friend “bad,” especially if that friend has ever done anything good for their kid.

– Parents can ask their kids what they like about that specific friend. Not only will this show their child that they are interested in him or her and in their friends, but it will also give the parent information about what need the relationship with that friend is fulfilling for their child. Then parents might do things in order to help see that need gets met in positive ways. Open, and non-judgmental, communication with kids about their friends can strengthen parent-child relationships and provide support for their kids as their kids learn to take responsibility for their own choices.

– Parents can send messages to their kids that show confidence and leadership by saying things like, “That kid looks like he could use some good friends. I hope a lot of you rubs off on him. He is lucky to have a friend like you. I think it would be helpful if I got to know him; why don’t you bring him around the house more.”

– Finally, parents can wrap their arms around the concerning kid and help that kid feel included and a sense of belonging. Many of the kids who concern parents may not come from stable homes or feel a sense of belonging or connectedness. Healthy adults have a great opportunity to reach out to these kids and help them feel that they do matter and they do belong. They can do so by inviting these kids to participate in family events or by simply inviting them to eat with the family. Good food can have a powerful and comforting effect on kids who lack stability.

In summary, even though parents may not effectively be able to control who their kids choose as friends, parents do have a lot of influence over building good relationships with their children’s friends (even the scary ones). As parents show confidence in their children’s ability to make good choices in friends, and then bring their friends within the arms of the family, parents can have a great deal of influence over the relationships and situations in which their kids get involved.

Children Under Stress

Most children react to these stresses with temporary behavior disorders, such as nightmares, bed wetting, temper tantrums or excessive fears. Serious difficulties arise only when the stresses are overwhelming or when the adults are too occupied to attend to the child’s signals of distress. Skilled psychological help then is needed although the reactions of a child are “normal” in the sense that any child under these conditions would react similarly. Help for children under stress fulfills a double purpose, the relief of present anxieties and the prevention of personality defects in later.

Disturbed behavior arousing anger in other people may be the first indication that a child is struggling with an emotional problem. Before proceeding to curing remedies it is important to know what usual causes of stress in children are. Mostly problems stem out when there is a conflict between inner wishes on the one hand and the external world on the other or between inner urges and one’s own conscience.

We cannot neglect the harmful effects of bereavement. It has grim impressions more often due to its long term social consequences and emotional reactions of the surviving parent than to the impact of the death itself upon the child. Further there is much evidence that the children from disrupted families have more behavior disturbances than children whose homes are intact. Families incomplete because of illegitimacy and those broken by divorce are different from families disrupted by death, in that the remaining parents tend to be censured by their own families and by society in general. A leading cause of stress in children is a neurotic family. A marriage in which the unresolved childhood conflicts of both parents are repeatedly enacted is the basis of the neurotic family. Though outwardly a family may appear perfectly stable and united but there are repeated violent quarrels and even temporary separations. Children belonging to such families are characterized by frustration and discontent.

We have discussed how the disruption of family structure can increase a child’s difficulties in adapting to the family life. But there is a second series of reasons those of the outside world. More important are the demands made on a child to confirm standards of achievement and social behavior. Failure in the outer world is accompanied by loss of self-esteem and has profound effects on personality developments. Despite of the disorders induced by adverse family interaction social and cultural differences between the sub-groups of society may cause anxiety and makes it difficult for a child to concentrate on his performance.

To curb the growing rate of stress in children it is necessary to take some measures. Preventive psychiatry, like preventive medicine, focuses not on the individual patient nor even on the individual family but on wider social groups. The behavior disorders of childhood, the neurotic illness of later life, antisocial personality distortion that interfere with work, with animate relationships such as marriage and parenthood, all these are psychiatric disturbances which theoretically at least are preventable.

In considering what society can do to prevent and ameliorate such psychiatric disorders it is important to know that it is caused by two sets of circumstances: experiences of overwhelming anxieties and experiences of inadequate socialization often associated with parental and cultural deprivation. The field is still wide open for exploration. Housing policies, reforms in education, the administration of National Health Service and changes in our legal system are all social processes likely to affect mental health. There is room for more experimental investigations of the effects of proposed policy changes before they are implemented on a nation- wide basis.

Society takes responsibility for a considerable part of child rearing. The experiences provided for children in schools are in large measure under public control. Through the training of teachers and the organization of schools and classrooms, society has a chance to improve and modify the major part of the environment of children. The expectations are that schools should not only compensate children for cultural deficiencies in their own homes but should in addition provide an environment in which generally acceptable social standards can be acquired, especially by children from disorganized in which these standards are lacking. But to transmit social standards it requires techniques quite different from traditional teaching methods. Social behavior can be modified if a teacher deliberately conducts the interactions in the classrooms in such a way to foster satisfaction rather than frustration. The prevailing environment should have co-operation, efficiency, cohesion, trust and mutual identification.

Another solution which is quite practical is to provide an expert advice for each newly wedded couple. By means of regular discussions and proper training the problems can be overcome. Usually our curriculum is deficient in inculcating an awareness of minor psychological problems and their solutions. Petty differences are aggravated resulting into the destruction of the domestic bliss. Any therapeutic help given to adults has indirect beneficial effects on children although this has not been substantiated because of the difficulty of long term follow up studies, the hope is that if we can make specific improvements in the environment of our children this will also contribute to their mental health as adults.