As parents we want to protect our kids at all cost. We also want to raise them to be kind, decent human beings who will be as productive as they'll be compassionate. But that's much easier said than done, especially when our children start making friends. So, how do you know if your kid's friend is a bad influence, or if your child's unruly behavior is just a phase?
Fortunately, there are a few red flags you can look out for that will let you know your kid's friend isn't the best influence. Child behavior expert and author James Lehman, MSW, recommends paying close attention to your kid's behavior, and noting any changes that occur after they make a new friend. Another clue is how your kid's friend acts when they visit or interact with you. As child psychologist Matthew Goldfine, PhD told HuffPost, if your kid's friend constantly breaks the rules, talks back, or behaves badly at your home, their behavior might rub off on your kid. As sociologist Robert Faris, Ph.D. told Good Housekeeping, bad influences don’t always look like bullies, either. Sometimes they are the kids with the most friends, or the ones who want to be the most popular kid in school and, as a result, are willing to do anything to reach that goal.
All kids go through difficult phases. The trouble with having risk-taking friends, however, is that kids tend to get into more trouble with each other then they would on their own. As our kids venture out into the world and make new friends, here's how you can know if their friends are bad influences or positive role models:
They Don't Follow Your Rules
As Goldfine told HuffPost, all kids test boundaries and challenge the rules. It's part of growing up. But according to Goldfine it's important for parents to recognize the difference between a kid who challenges authority and tests limits, and one who refuses to follow any rules you set.
The best thing to do if your kid's friend constantly breaks your rules is to talk to their parents about their behavior in a non-judgmental way. They might not know how their child is behaving outside their home and, as a result, will appreciate a heads up so they can address i accordingly.
They Are Popular
Sociologist Robert Faris, Ph.D. warns parents about friends who appear to be "social climbers," or have a strong desire to be popular and are willing to go to extremes to make it happen. His research on peer pressure revealed that a majority of "mean" kids were actually just trying to be popular, and "viewed aggression as a way to maintain social status," according to Good Housekeeping.
They Take Risks
According to research at Temple University, risk-taking behavior is actually contagious. As Good Housekeeping reports, kids take more risks together than when they are flying solo. This is because being with friends causes the reward center in your brain to go into overdrive. When paired with kids' general inability to make good choices and control their impulses, it can be a recipe for disaster.
For parents, this means that it's important to pay attention. If you observe your kid's friends taking dangerous risks or putting pressure on your kid to follow suit, it might be time to intervene.
Your Kid's Behavior Changes
According to Michele Borba, author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions, the first warning sign your kid's friend is a bad influence is when your own kid starts acting like someone else. Because your kid's friends can literally set the tone for their behavior and choices, your kid might suddenly become sassy, defiant, or mean after hanging out with a new friend who models those behaviors.
When this happens, Lehman advises parents to ask their kid about it, follow up by setting boundaries, and telling them that their behavior is unacceptable.
Your Kid Seems Afraid Of Them
As Lehman writes on EmpoweringParents.com, it's possible your kid is friends with bad influences because they are afraid not to be. It's not uncommon for bullied kids to become bullies themselves out of a desire to fit in or avoid further harassment. So, if your child acts afraid to disappoint or disagree with their friend, it could be a red flag that they are being bullied and that their "friend" is a bad influence.