Every few weeks, I join the hosts of Fox6 Real Milwaukee to discuss topics important to parents. This morning we talked about corruptive companion behaviors. In other words, when should we parents be concerned that our kids’ friends’ bad behaviors will rub off on our children?
I managed to pack in lots of good information in this 5-minute segment. But I ran out of time to discuss day-to-day strategies parents can engage in to reduce the chances that children will adopt the bad behaviors of their friends. So, click on the picture below and take five to watch the segment, then scroll on down to read these easy-to-employ tips. (I’m 36+ weeks pregnant here! Next time I’m on Real Milwaukee, our baby girl will have been born!)
General Strategies to Reduce the Influence of Corrupting Behaviors
Catch ‘Em Making Good Choices
Early on, look for situations when your child made the right choice, but could have decided to follow a friend’s bad example. Verbally praise your child for his choice, letting him know that you are aware he could have made a different, poorer, choice and that you are proud of him for making the right decision. Make this a habit starting as early as preschool playgroups (“I’m so proud of you for sharing your dolls with Jenny.”) and it’ll be second nature by the time your toddler is a teenager.
Have Clear Family Rules, Values and Expectations
Make sure your children know what is expected of them as a member of your family. Every fall, my husband and I sit down with our kids and revisit our Family Rules. Here we list general rules, values and expectations so they are clear, and everyone has the opportunity to ask questions. We type them up, frame them and hang ’em on the wall.
In that same vein, make it clear that there are consequences for not meeting those expectations. This way your kids know you aren’t just a talking head − there’s real substance to your words.
Make Your House the Place to Be
If kids want to hang on your turf, you have front row seats from which to monitor both your kids’ and their friends’ behavior. Stock up on snacks, drinks and movies and carve out a bit of your basement just for the kids. The extra effort will be worth it!
Teach Your Kids What Quality Friendships Look Like
This is such a powerful tool and one we simply don’t think about using. If we teach our kids about the characteristics of good frendships, we equip them to make better friendship choices. In general, friendships with peers who engage in corrupting behaviors are usually not quality friendships. We can teach our kids this skill by having them answer “yes” or “no” to the following questions:
- My friend sticks up for me.
- My friend makes me feel better if I’m sad.
- My friend encourages me to do what is right.
- My friend makes me feel good about myself.
Criticize the Behavior, Not the Friend
Resist the urge to talk negatively about the friend you suspect your kids is learning all this bad stuff from. Doing so will only make the friend more attractive. Instead, discuss the negative behavior.
And, except in severe cases, it’s best not to forbid your child to hang out with the bad apple all together. This ban, once again, increases the chances that your child will only seek out the bad influence with more earnest. Instead, limit the amount of time the two kids spend together, and, whenever possible, arrange that they hang out at your house. This way you can monitor the interactions and debrief with your child afterward if necessary.
Yes, the prospect of your kids’ friends having so much power over your children can be daunting. But, take comfort in the fact that research clearly shows that we parents are the most important influence on our kids. And our opinions and interventions help shape our kids’ behavior, and even friendship choices, well into adolescence.
*As always, my posts are a combination of my professional opinions and personal experiences as a mom of three, soon to be four. My writings are not intended to be taken as medical advice. Remember that all children, parents and families are different, and my opinions may not reflect what’s true for you.