Sarah came home one day and began to spew negativity. Her parents did not understand. Usually she was a sweet child with a good disposition. They let it go this time hoping it was a one-time thing. Yet, it continued.
Hunter came home one day and was unreasonable. He argued about his chores. He argued about dinner. He said cruel things to his little brother. His parents just didn’t know what to do.
Levi came home and shocked his parents one day. He did his homework, cleaned his room, and offered to do the dishes. They had noticed a degree of change over the past few weeks. After he volunteered to bathe and go to bed they just sat there dumbfounded.
What each of these have in common is outside influences. Sarah, Hunter, and Levi all started hanging out with a new set of people they were now calling friends. I remember clearly the teaching of the church was that we should be careful who we pick as friends because they could change us in ways we might not appreciate later. I remember hearing the illustration (and seeing it later) of the Christian standing on the chair and the “heathen friend” pulling him down. Pulling down was obviously easier that pulling up. We were being told to avoid all the heathen and stick with “our kind”. In today’s world, that sounds so hateful and demeaning. What were they really getting at anyway?
We need to be careful about whom we allow to have influence over us. I might be able to learn something about war and management from Sun Tzu, but I am not looking to him for spiritual guidance. While extreme, I think you get the point. The problem is that we, as adults, have enough trouble with this, but our kids need help.
What can I do if my kid has friends I don’t like? Some have taken the radical approach of separating their kids from everything that disagrees with them. I don’t. I have conversations. Here are a few things to consider.
- Keep the lines of communication open. This is extremely difficult as your child transitions into adolescence. The child that used to snuggle and cuddle now stands at arm’s length giving you that “look”. In the same way, stories of how the day went have turned into one-word answers. I have had to adjust my inquiries a bit as mine are going through this time. I used to ask, “How was your day?” I would sit back and just listen as tale after tale was told. I asked that one day and got, “Fine.” Now I have learned to ask, “Did anything interesting happen today?” or “What was the best and worst thing about your day?”Face it parents. They are only going to tell you what they want to as they walk through adolescence. Your job is love them through it and keep communication as open as possible.
- Stop smothering like Beverly Goldberg. I know we want to have what we did years before. I often examine the current moments and long to back when they were toddlers. We can’t. No one can go back. Therefore, it is critical to live today, not in yesterday. In the same way, I cannot keep acting today the way I did a few years ago. They are growing up and I am going to have to allow for some space, some privacy, etc. When we give a little space, it allows for trust on both sides to develop.
- Friends are not friends forever, regardless of what Smitty sang! Friends are a difficult topic because they can have so much influence over our kids. They can break their hearts. They can affect their attitude. We, as parents, do want anything negative to happen to our kids. Yet, how will they learn? Friends are not ALWAYS friends in 2 years, 2weeks, and maybe 2 days. Let us learn to duck and cover a little. You will need a thicker skin, but God can give you that too. However, there are those episodes when your tween/teen can get out of hand. In these times, we need a guide. This leads us to #4.
- Work together to establish house rules. I recommend doing this early and often. There are standards that you, as a parent, will set. Then, there are those guiding principles you provide. Have a conversation. Have your child provide their set as well. Work together to produce a workable solution. I highly recommend using Proverbs as a foundation for scriptural influence. There is too much wisdom there to ignore! As you talk through the list and study the scriptures there are a lot of opportunities.
- Progressive Disciplinary Plan. Our church recently went through some HR adjustments and this plan was one addition. In essence, we are not going to fire someone because we don’t like them. We are not going to fire someone without cause. We are going to try to find resolution and redemption if possible. Why not do this at home? Too often we take the approach that our kids need to just stop being friends with this group and go be friends in that group. I certainly don’t understand middle school politics. I am not sure I did when I was there either. What I can say is that what seems to be so easy for us as adults, it is more complicated for those just getting their social training wheels removed. Here is a suggestion: talk without yelling. For those who are on the emotional, volatile side this will be extremely difficult. For those with anger management or high-stress vocations this could be hard too.With the agreed upon set of house rules, focus on those, not their friends. You can blame their friends which will do 2 things: make your child bitter and cause them to run deeper in that friendship circle. What we want to accomplish is to awareness. We want them to see what is happening. A rule is broken, we talk about it. Maybe in a weekly family gathering or at the dinner table, but discussion happens. We express that something happened. We begin to discuss the cause. At first, there may be no acknowledgement.
Take a breath.
If the same rule keeps getting broken then we up the discipline. Electronics are limited further than usual, later removed. For the older ones, going out is limited, restricted, then removed. Just be sure that there is no “from on high” declaration. (I have that tendency.) Instead, sit down and have a conversation. I know, I know. Why can’t we just use the “because I’m the parent” line? How did that work for you? Positional authority might be accurate, but Persuasive authority is what you want and that is only built over time, through communication that leads to trust and security.
Today, I read Jeremiah 10:23-25 “I know, Lord, that our lives are not our own. We are not able to plan our own course. So correct me, Lord, but please be gentle. Do not correct me in anger, for I would die. Pour out your wrath on the nations that refuse to acknowledge you—on the peoples that do not call upon your name. For they have devoured your people Israel they have devoured and consumed them, making the land a desolate wilderness.”
We don’t want our kids to be consumed by friends that lead them astray from God. What have you found that works in your home?