February 22, 2018

Helping Kids Choose Friends by Lillian Sanderson

I have very dear friends from my childhood and teen years who I met in our neighborhood or at school.  What made us be drawn to each other and stay connected for so long is more complicated.

We all know that our friends had a great influence on our decisions when we were young, and hope and pray that our children will not be seduced into antisocial behavior by some less than desirable new buddy.  How children first choose their playmates is controlled to a certain extent by their parents, but once children become more independent, they pick who they enjoy.


I read a great line in a column the other day.  Carolyn Hax, who writes for the Washington Post, advised about judging a girlfriend’s sincerity: “Read her nutritional label; friends with a low decency content need to be treated as junk food.”


So, how do we help our kids to decide who is a quality friend?  This is a tough one.  If we criticize ferociously, the older they get, the less likely the new friends will be introduced to us.  If we pay no attention, the class clown or worse yet, the class terror, may be really fascinating.  Starting early, as with all child-rearing, probably is the best way to see what your child admires in others.  Talk about characters in shows or stories; ask your kids if they like them.  Give lots of positive opinions about positive behavior, and how fun it would be to have a friend like that.  Try to be kind, but in a sort of how sad to be like that manner, when the character or child is misbehaving or rude.   Nobody wants to be the one that others consider pitiful and sad.


The old Golden Rule is an easy to remember concept for even the young.  Toddlers can be told to be nice; so others will be nice too.  Learning who you can trust and who is dependable is an ongoing part of life.  I don’t think anyone gets through their adulthood without being disappointed at one time or another and questioning their own choices.  I like the analogy to food in the above quote.  Pay attention to the quality of a friend, like you would the quality of a meal.  A little time spent with a new friend is like a little taste of a new dish; you may decide it is just not for you.  I think it is perfectly ok to be honest with a child and tell them that some people you just don’t want as friends.  Demonstrate courtesy but be firm and don’t feel guilty about stopping the interaction.  Hopefully, the point will get across.  Most children want to have that power to choose a trustworthy friend over one who makes them uncomfortable.


I am very lucky that my old friends have passed the trust test many times over.  Even though I have “fired” so-called friends that proved to be all wrong for me, I feel that I have more positive friendships than many others.  Any way to help children see through the phonies and the users that they may meet is a way to make their life happier and give them an increased feeling of self confidence.  A few good friends are more valuable than a big huge list of acquaintances that you barely know.


Friendship, like a great dessert, can be the best treat in your life.


  1. Caroline Taylor says:

    This is a great article and so true- as a parent of a high schooler, I can attenst to the importance of a good solid group friends who have the similar values–being kind, getting good grades, etc. If we help our kids along the way to discover what truly makes a good friend (without ever being unkind to those who may not), by the time they are picking their own friends, they have a greater understanding about what and who, they value! Thank you!

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