My child has a friend who encourages him to disobey and make bad choices. I don’t want to cut off the relationship because they’re close friends, but I think he’s negatively influencing my child. What should I do?
Kendra Doukas, assistant director, The Catalyst Center
Ending the friendship doesn’t teach your child how to navigate complicated friendship dynamics and would likely leave your child angry and confused.
A better approach is to have conversations with your child about healthy relationship skills. This approach will help your child learn to listen to his own feelings and instincts about risky situations and teach him how to stand up to misbehavior. It will also foster your child’s connection with his own values and encourage a focus on empathy versus labeling the other child as a “bad kid.”
Here are some points to make when talking to your child:
- Friends should be chosen based on shared values. For example, maybe your child values kindness but this friend doesn’t.
- Our friends are an extension of ourselves. If a friend is making bad choices, then it’s likely others will associate your child with bad choices, too.
- Listen to your internal radar. Talk about how the behaviors make him feel. Ask, “How do you feel when you see your friend misbehaving? How do you feel when you misbehave?” Often, children have an internal radar about doing something “bad” and teaching him to read his body cues can be helpful. This also sets up positive skills for adolescence and beyond.
- Different families have different rules. Empathize with him that it’s difficult when other people have different rules from your family. Talk about why you have the rules that you do. My favorite line is, “My job as your parent is keeping you healthy and safe. You might not always understand why we have a certain rule, but it always comes back to keeping you healthy and safe.”
Also, try talking with the other parents. If they’re supportive, then you can be a united front when you see the behavior arising. If the other parents aren’t on the same page, then consider setting up boundaries around playdates. For example, your rule might be that your child’s friend can play at your home, but your child is not allowed to go to his home. You could also have a higher level of supervision than you would with other playdates.
Using this approach will not only help this situation, but also will teach positive skills for healthy friendships throughout life.