Should We Choose Our Child’s Friends?

Monday, March 31, 2014

By Katie Moosbrugger

I ran this post on TMoM three years ago, but it's a topic I think about often as my kids get older. Let me know if you can relate! ~ Katie

Is it a good or bad idea to choose who your kids play with and make friends with? As adults we pick our own friends all the time. Sure, and our kids do too. But as parents, is it possible to pick and choose your kids’ friends? By doing so, could we help them navigate around all the mean girls and boys? Should we even try? And if so, are we just asking for trouble?

If you think about it, we’ve been choosing our kids’ friends for years – at least in the first five or six years of their life. As new moms we hung out with our other new mom friends who had babies the same ages as ours. Then our kids grow up together – sometimes taking vacations and trips together - so by the time they’re walking and talking with each other they’re already fast friends.

Then we choose which preschool we send our child to. Lots of times that choice is dependent on where our friends send their children. But even if that’s not the case, the play dates we then organize for our kids are oftentimes with other preschool moms we’ve befriended and their children, and not necessarily the same “Johnny” or “Susie” our child happens to play with everyday in class.

Then for Kindergarten, some of us choose our child’s elementary school because we have friends who belong to that same school. Sometimes this is not an option, but luckily in the Triad we all have choices – whether we choose a private school, a magnet school, or a different school within our “zone” – the option is most likely there.

And if the option is not there, we often coordinate summer camps, sleep-overs, weekend get-aways, pool memberships, after-school activities, Girl and Boy Scout troops, etc, with our friends and their kids. Again, not always with the same clique our kids hang out with in school.

Of course all of this is easy and somewhat common sense, especially when our kids are really young. My mom always said you “lose” your child once they start school. You’re not always there to steer your child after you kiss them goodbye and send them off on the school bus. You hope they play with the kids you know who are nice, but we all know that’s not always the case.

In my daughter’s short time at school, I, too, have seen the emergence of mean girls. She’s come home to tell me so-and-so said she’s not allowed to play with such-and-such. Or she’s told me a certain someone said hurtful things, but that same someone insists on being her friend and wants to have a play date.

Yet my daughter is young and impressionable, and I’m guilty as charged when it comes to nipping a play date in the bud. Or if I happen to know of a “nice girl” in my daughter’s class, I am all about setting up a play date with that child, even if my daughter doesn’t necessarily “hang” with her at school.

Despite my best intentions, I have no idea whether it has any influence on my daughter. If I remember correctly, I think my mom tried similar tactics with me when I was in grade school and I really don’t think it made any impact at all on who I chose for my friends.

Of course we all want our children to be kind and respectful to everyone, and to have as many “nice” friends as possible. But can we go so far as choosing their friends? Does that even work? And if so, is that a good thing?
Summer Riley commented on 01-Jun-2011 07:50 AM
Much as you have said, we do to some degree, choose the environment our kids are in to select their friends. I am inclined to think that if I had a questionable influence I would host more of the playdates. Earlier this year our kindergartener teared up
at the table when telling how another girl in the class had put her hand in a friends face and told her to "shut up", "I do not like her treating my friend that way" she said. It occurred to me, that if I had overprotected my child, or only surrounded them
with children whom I could trust to act in ways I expect, my daughter my not have had a chance to learn/exercise compassion. Additionally, I would much rather have the opportunity to talk to her and help her navigate relationships now so she has a developing
tool set, instead of teaching her to avoid/minimize, or pretending that people who operate and act differently than us don't exist. Living in community and relationship is what we do, I have made the assumption that our children have the strength to do that,
I just have to help them discover it.
Kelly commented on 01-Jun-2011 07:59 AM
Great post, Katie! The short answer - no. The best I can hope to do is teach my children how to behave, how to treat others, and how to do their best to choose good friends. That doesn't always work out, but those are lessons they have to learn. By the
same token, I want to manipulate situations to provide them with opportunities to form healthy friendships. Not an easy question, is it? Hmm, I may have to blog on this, lol.
Anonymous commented on 01-Jun-2011 09:26 AM
You can't choose your child's friends, and you aren't really doing that; what you are doing is giving her opportunities to have different ones. So far with my two, there hasn't been any issue with not nice friends—the hard ones are simply still young and
may choose to hit instead of using their words. Someday one of my kids will be friends with a mean kid or with a kid who isn't a good influence. But, where are they going to learn that it's in their best interest to choose good friends if they never have the
chance? Also, I hope my children grow up to be good influences on some of the mean kids. It does work both ways.

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