Dear David Coleman: 'Some of our son's friends are a bad influence and we're at our wits' end'
Q: MY husband and I are at our wits’ end with our middle son, who is 10. We live in a young estate and he always wants to be out playing. He even wants to miss sports activities so that he can be with his friends on the estate. Some are a good influence, others not, but it is hard to keep him away from the bad ones when they all play together. He is easily influenced and we worry about how much time he spends out. He gets in a bad mood if we try to organise some family time and we end up arguing with him. Please help.
A: Your son sounds like he is a true extrovert, loving the energy and fun of being with other people. He sounds like he is happiest when he is interacting with his friends and that he finds down-time, in contrast, difficult. Maybe your opening stance is to just be authentically open and curious about the friends he has on the estate. Rather than focusing on problems, just show interest in them.
Have you any evidence that they are misleading him? I do hear your concern that they might, and that your sense is that some of them may not be a good influence. I think sometimes we parents have a sixth sense that some youngsters our children befriend might just be trouble!
However, unless you have some clear incidences of where they have made bad choices, and brought him along with those bad choices, then it is very hard to rationalise with him about your worry that he spends too much time with them.
It is always a gnarly dilemma for parents whether to intervene in their children's friendships to try to either reduce contact with some friends or promote contact with others.
I think most parents who do decide to intervene find that it can often backfire, because in truth, we can't make our children like or dislike someone. That connection or disconnection must come from within them.
So, until it is clearer, due to what they have done, that some of the lads on the estate absolutely must be avoided, you might be better off just focusing on what you expect from your son in terms of the time he spends at home.
I think you are also in a strong position to argue that he needs to show balance. So, being with his friends is important, being in school is important, playing sports is important and being with his family is important.
Your son, like every child, needs to try to find some balance in terms of giving time to all of these.
Your query arrived to me during the summer, when his time was most free, and so I imagine that it was especially difficult to try to deter him from just hanging out on the estate. Hopefully with the structure of school, his expectations of being out have lessened.
In many ways you have to adopt a clear and firm stance about what you expect of him, such that he learns that it isn't just about what he expects for himself.
This need to be firm, but kind, warm and understanding, with our children cuts across every parenting situation, since, at his age, he still needs you to make most of the decisions about his overall well-being.
That is not to say that he can't ever have what he wants, but his personal choices need to made in the context of what is good for him overall. This is the position from which you need to rationalise your decision to bring him in in the evening, or at the weekends.
Let him know that you can understand he may be disappointed about not having the same open freedom to come and go like his friends, but acknowledge that every family is different and these are the rules in his family that he must go along with.
Empathising with the frustration that your decisions may cause him, will help to offset the temper tantrums, rows and conflict that might arise when you have to set the limits.
As long as those limits are about achieving balance then you are on solid ground in applying them.
Be confident in your own choices and be warm about how it might impact him and hopefully you'll find that he may accept the limits easier.
My husband and I are at our wits' end with our middle son, who is 10. We live in a young estate and he always wants to be out playing.
He even wants to miss sports activities so that he can be with his friends on the estate. Some are a good influence, others not, but it is hard to keep him away from the bad ones when they all play together. He is easily influenced and we worry about how much time he spends out.
He gets in a bad mood if we try to organise some family time and we end up arguing with him. Please help.
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