Here’s a nice motherly dilemma: your daughter is friends with some nice Christian girls who are starting to make poor choices. In other words, when your daughter spends time with them, she ends up being influenced negatively more than she is influencing them positively. And then say that their mothers are your good friends.Â I don’t know how many times moms have asked me what to do in a situation like this. So here are a few thoughts.
One important thing to note is that the older your children grow, the more this matters. Someone who was a nice little friend in third grade may be an entirely different kind of friend by eighth grade. Why? Because lifestyle choices will become more important as each year goes by. In third grade the girls still want to ride bikes and climb trees and play house. But by junior-high they may be listening to the kind of music or watching the kind of movies that your family wants to avoid. And by early high-school it will most likely also include choices involving language, facebook, boys, and modesty issues.
So it is not uncommon for long-time friends to drift apart. But sometimes it is more of a tearing than a drifting, and then it can become an issue that needs to be handled with care. Parents should have a very keen interest in the kind of friends their children have. This is what parents are supposed to do; this is what parents are for.
Let’s say your daughter is wanting to move on and away from some of her long-term friends and she has good reason to do so. There are a couple of possibilities. If your daughter wants to move on because she fits right in with those girls, but she has realized that she doesn’t want to anymore, then she needs to own up to her own responsibilities for any ungodly behavior. She should be the one to “take the hit,” not her long-time friends. In other words, she should seek her friends’ forgiveness for any outstanding sin (say, gossiping with them, talking crudely, speaking dishonorably about her parents, lying, cheating, etc.).Â This is far better than suddenly announcing that she doesn’t want to be friends anymore because they are the ones with the problem.
The other possibility is she has not participated with them in the lying, gossiping, and crude talk, but she has condoned it by refusing to stand up to them. In this case she should still seek their forgiveness for being a wimpy friend, and she should tell them that she is going to cease being the innocent bystander when they act foolishly. This will then open the door for her to have more of a back bone.
Let’s say she has this little talk with her friends, and then the next day they come to pick her up to go to the mall, and a couple of them are wearing inappropriate clothes. This is a perfect opportunity for your daughter to speak up. She should simply say something like, “You are not seriously thinking I want to go out in public with you dressed like that?” This will no doubt lead to some interesting conversations, but her friends will either appreciate it that she is speaking up, or they will make it very easy for her to press on to find new friends.
On a side note, one of the important things parents need to do is teach their kids to speak up for their own principles along the way, elementary school and on. Peer pressure is as old as dirt, and parents have an obligation to teach their kids to think for themselves. We tried to teach our children why we did not want them to do certain things, not just the fact of it. The thing we wanted was for our children to internalize the standards, not just hold to them because we said so. At some point they have to become their own. I remember one time when my daughter was annoyed because in some kind of lively discussion at school she was the only person defending her point while some of the kids whom she knew agreed with her wouldn’t say a word. Rather than feeling sorry for her, I remember telling her I was proud of her for standing up for what she believed and sticking to it! That’s not an easy thing to do, and I was glad she got a little practice.
But say you are on the other end of this proceeding. Let’s say you get a call from a mother who tells you that her daughter cannot play at your house anymore because of the movies you watch or the music you play. I would encourage you to pray on the spot for a tender heart that is willing to receive criticism. Listen to what she is saying. Ask clarifying questions. Maybe she knows about some things going on at your house that you were unaware of. Tell her you appreciate her call and that you will certainly think about what she has said. Thank her. It was probably not easy for her to make that call. (But if she is the kind who loves to make that kind of call, you can still thank her.) Be grateful for the interaction. This may be a very good wake-up call for you, and it may lead to some good discussion with your kids. Don’t always assume you are in the right. Perhaps you have been drifting along without giving serious thought to some of the stuff your kids are doing. On the other hand, if you decide that your friend is just too uptight about your kids playing monopoly, you have a choice to make. You can either defer to her when her kids are at your house and put the monopoly board away; or you can quit having her kids over.
Seek wisdom as you navigate through these years. Have an eye to what kinds of friends you want your children to have. If your daughter is invited to someone’s house to play, and you are not comfortable with the idea, you should not feel guilty about saying no thanks. You are responsible for this. If you are the one sending out the invitations, and you keep receiving negative responses, perhaps it’s time to think about what kind of friend your child is being. And though I have used daughters as examples here, it is not because I don’t think this can happen with sons. But it doesn’t happen nearly as often. Why? Because boys don’t tend to take things as personally as girls, and boys are not as friend-dependent as girls can be.