Making Friends and Avoiding Cliques
We raise our kids in our own image. Our dreams for them are to grow into better versions of ourselves. It’s pretty much the only way we know how to parent, and that’s what we do. They’ll eventually be molded into close approximations of us because we teach them our values and the things that matter in our lives. But, it’s inevitable that they will diverge from what we expect. What sorts of people will they encounter along their way? What can we do to help them make good decisions about the people they befriend? We have to look no further than “The Breakfast Club.” In that movie there were five main characters. They were The Brain, The Athlete, The Princess, The Basket Case, and the Criminal. Each kid was a stereotype, and each kid had a stereotypical parent that contributed to their quirky natures. There was a time when we identified with the kids in the movie. We wish it wasn’t true, but somehow time marched on and we became the parents instead. How do we avoid being like these stereotypical parents that produce mentally collapsed kids? The answer is to follow some simple guidelines while our kids are still younger. It’s like almost every other piece of advice I’ll ever give – ride the middle.
The only way to encourage independence is to step back and let kids make mistakes by themselves. When our kids pick a friend who we think isn’t a good influence we need to be able to step back and watch for a while. This is the time to see what our kids are made of and if what we have taught them is starting to stick. Little kids (5-6 years old) don’t have very sophisticated play times anyway so it’s a good idea for the first several play-dates to go to the park or some other public place. There we can sit back and watch them without being a looming presence, still being available if our kid gets hurt or suddenly decides he’s made a horrible mistake in friends and we need to escape. We want our kids to be able to solve problems by themselves. This is not the time to send our kids off alone to potentially get hurt. Nor is it the time for us to stand over them and micromanage. Be nearby but not too nearby.
Try New Things
Don’t get stuck in the same routine forever. This is how cliques are born. Athletic kids hang out with athletic kids and brains hang out with brains because they get stuck in a routine that doesn’t allow them to see another perspective on life. Now, when kids are still young, is the time to foster exploration. One of my kids is athletic so I obviously put him into situations where he can use his abilities. But is that all he should be doing? Of course not. I want him to experience music, reading, math, and all sorts of other pursuits. When we get our kids involved in activities that are just outside their comfort zones they’ll have an opportunity to see the world from a different angle. They will be more open to accepting a wider range of people as friends. And that’s good.
Being a Hard-Ass
We might know where not to go and what not to do in life through experience but there is no excuse for poorly communicating that information to our kids. Kids are rebellious by nature; getting angry about a poor choice they’ve made, or otherwise overreacting is a pretty sure way to not fix the problem. Kids need an out, a way to save face and someone to talk to about their mistakes. It won’t be their parents if their parents are angry. Being a hard-ass about friends works just the same way. Telling our kids who not to hang out with will only cause things to end badly. Besides, kids aren’t usually as dumb as they make themselves out to seem. If we’ve raised them correctly then deep down in that little head they already know the right things to do. Being overly stern hamstrings their ability to make their own decisions.
Parents have a lot to worry about as their kids grow. It is reasonable to fret about the judgments they’ll make about friends. Our kids will surely make some pretty terrible decisions in their lives. If we are nearby to guide them in their early years then, when they start to outgrow our presence, they will be well balanced and able to make independently sound decisions. By exposing them to new experiences, showing flexibility when they make mistakes, and allowing them some independence while they are still young our children can escape the stereotypes of The Athlete, The Basket Case, The Brain, The Princess, and the Criminal. Their success starts with our refusal to ride extremes.