WE all think we know our children really well. That may have been the case when they were much younger and spent time exclusively with us. We fed and clothed them, and we were always there when they needed us. But as our children grow older, they begin to socialise with others their age.
Three of my children are in college so, in a way, we have “lost” that exclusivity with our kids. They now have other influencers in their lives — their friends. So, what should we do when it comes to our children’s friends?
PROTECTIVE BUT NOT NOSY
While it’s important to protect our kids when they are out with friends, being too close and involved will make everyone uncomfortable. In other words, being nosy may even drive the friends away. There are many ways to get to know their friends better.
Interrogating them will just put you in a bad light in the eyes of your children and their friends (this is especially true for teenage friends). We must respect their privacy and show that we trust them. Always remind them that the trust is not a privilege but something to be earned and valued. Once broken, things will not be the same.
Once trust is in place, we can establish boundaries. If they are a group of younger children, this is akin to supervision when there is a get-together. Make them comfortable with the presence of trusted adults.
Things are a little trickier when they are older and more independent. They want to hang out at a place further from home, for example, in a mall. That’s good for their social life but I know of some parents who discreetly follow their children wherever they go. Again, this shows a lack of trust.
A better strategy is to establish clear boundaries of do’s and don’ts. For example, let them inform you who their friends are. Ideally you’d have met them at least once. Remind them about appropriate behaviours between genders, and most importantly, agree on a safe and reasonable hour for an outing.
INVITE THEM OVER
Perhaps the best way to combine all the above is to invite their friends over for get-togethers. There are plenty of opportunities to do this — birthdays or open houses are some good examples. But the truth is, we don’t have to wait for special occasions.
Our family organised a “post-exam” party. The objective was to get our children’s friends over and get to know them better in a happy, informal setting. It works both ways — their friends also get to know us, and hopefully respect and mutual understanding are established along the way.
Most importantly, these sort of gatherings will allow us to know the friends. As they say, you can tell a lot about a man by the company he keeps.
Zaid Mohamad coaches and trains parents to experience happier homes and more productive workplaces. Reach him at zaid@smartparents.