Friendship Day 2019: Your child is usually under your supervision at home. Much of the paranoia starts when kids begin going to school where you are unable to really keep track of your child’s each and every activity. So, you try to compensate in other ways, through annual reports from teachers, or by waiting outside the school premises or at the bus stand to see who your child just shared a joke with or talked to.
Sometimes, you don’t approve of the friends your child has and ask him or her to stay away from them, perhaps without even explaining why because the kid may be too young to understand your concerns. Some may even go to the extent of dictating who their child should be friends with. Parents, of course, have their child’s best interests at heart and want to ensure their well-being but what if your child is not happy with your chosen friend? What if they secretly meet those very friends they are not supposed to be with?
Mother to a 13-year-old boy Soumi Das told Express Parenting, “After a certain age, I don’t think parents can influence a child’s choices when it comes to choosing friends because you are not with the child all the time and can’t monitor who he is socialising with.”
With your child spending a major part of the day at school, you can hardly monitor who he or she is interacting with. Schools are not just institutions for academic nurturing; it is where your child is exposed to a number of new influences which are essential for their development. They only need to be taught to identify which influences are good and which are not, which is the job of adults, but this judgement should ideally not be coloured by prejudices. For instance, there is no harm if your child is friends with a classmate who may not be that good a student but is a really well-mannered person, or someone who seems to suffer from some disability or one who comes from a dysfunctional family and is in desperate need of a friend he or she can confide in. You cannot force your child to just be friends with the best kids in the classroom. Your child needs to be taught to be empathetic and inclusive and sensitised to grow up to be a better human being.
Parents sometimes make sure their child is friends with the topper of the class, for instance, hoping that would improve their child’s scores too. Dr Debmita Dutta, parenting consultant and founder, What Parents Ask, said, “Pushing your child unnecessarily to be friends with a topper can lower his or her self-esteem and can be counter-productive. Besides, the topper may not want to be forced into a friendship either. It is nice to tell children that they can have all kinds of friends because they will have something good about them. Friendships, specially in the school years, are very transient. If you have only one friend, you have the chance of feeling isolated after a while. So, it is important to encourage children to have lots of friends.”
So, instead of screening your child’s peer group, what is more important is to teach kids to tell right from wrong; to identify the true meaning of ‘having fun’ and recognise evils like bullying or creating nuisance in the classroom and so on, Dr Dutta explained. “The whole idea is to help children to think by inculcating positive values but not in the form of a moral science lecture. It has to happen gradually. And your child will automatically steer away from friends who engage in these activities,” she said.
Does that mean you can stop worrying completely about who your child is mingling with? Of course not, because there is still the risk of your child landing up in bad company which you may not even get to know about till it’s already too late. So, while you don’t really shortlist friends for your child, you need to at least be aware of who he or she spends time with.
Nidhi Arora, mother and founder of children’s newspaper The Children’s Post, explained, “I do know my child’s friends and their parents to the extent possible. My son’s friends are invited home but that is not to keep a tab on them. There are some red signals, where I will draw a line, like if the friend is prone to violence, I will ask my son to be careful. If the friend has screen addiction, then that’s a straight no-go from my side. I personally have had both kinds of upbringing. My grandparents were careful about who I spoke with while my parents gave me a lot of independence. I have personally been friends with unconventional people and that has also enriched me. So, I believe in giving my child the same freedom.”
Soumi also does the same. “I know who my child’s friends are because his peer group will have an influence on him. So, I think it is important to know who your child is interacting with. You can’t control who they mingle with but with time you need to develop that bond of trust with them,” she added.
While parents ideally shouldn’t try to operate their child on remote control, they still need to be adequately involved in the kid’s day-to-day life. “You cannot discover one fine day that your child is in bad company and then try to withdraw him or her. We need to be involved in our child’s lives so that we know who they are friends with. Your child may have a new friend but unless you are aware of what’s happening in their life, you won’t get to know about it. At all stages, we must be friends with the parents of these children as far as possible. Meet them once in a while, may be over lunch, just to get to know the people,” she advised.