We’ve been talking over the last few days about how to make sure that children adopt the family’s values, and spend enough family time with their parents. But we all know that parents are not the only important influence in a child’s life (if we were, parenting would be a lot easier). Friends play a huge role, too, especially as kids get older. So today let’s talk about how to help your child make friends!
I believe a big job of parenting is helping kids find and keep good friends. In effect, we should act as quasi-matchmakers (I think matchmaking has gotten a bad rap. I think I’d be extremely capable of choosing my girls’ husbands. Just wish they’d agree 🙂 ). We want to help our children make “good” friends–good in the sense that the kids are close friends, but also good in the sense that these kids will be good for our kids. So here’s how to help your child make those friendships at different ages and stages.
Help Your Child Make Friends: The Elementary School Years
Invite Families Over for Dinner
Find families who have similar value systems from you and invite them over for dinner. Have their kids over to play. Kids tend to play with the children of our own friends, because that’s who tends to be at our house. When children are small, they can’t play with anyone else, except perhaps neighbors. So invite families with kids your own kids’ ages with good value systems over. (And this includes the children of single parents, by the way. I was the child of a single mother, and I was at times shunned because of that. But I was a really good kid. Trust me. So if there’s a single mother in your church who is doing a good job, and she has some kids who could use a play date, target them first. Chances are that mom needs a break!).
If your child is not naturally good at playing with others, you may have to supervise a bit. Try to have people over for playdates rather than a big meal at first, because if you’re preparing the meal, you’ll be worried about that and won’t be able to help your child. But sometimes being there and suggesting that kids colour, or build a fort, or something can help get the ball rolling if your child is a little shy.
Have Neighbor Kids Play at Your House
I once lived on a street with lots of great families and lots of kids. Some of them were solid kids; some of them were questionable. But my kids played with them all. The main thing was that they played at our house, not at the homes of the kids who were questionable. And over the course of a number of years, I think we had a good impact on those kids who were struggling. So reach out to those kids, but keep them close. Monitor their games (I remember when one girl wanted my 6-year-old to play “Spice Girls” and learn how to dance sexy. I put a quick stop to that one). Get to know them. Teach them to share and to problem solve.
Nevertheless, you need those really close few friends that your kids really bond with. Kids tend to do that–they’ll have ten kids they regularly play with (because kids love playing with others)–and then only two or three that are their best friends. It’s those two or three you want to identify and make sure they have good value systems, or are at least willing to live under yours.
Seek Out Kids from a Great Church
I really believe the best place to find good, solid kids is in a church. That does not mean that every child in a church is better than every child outside a church! Absolutely not. But if you’re a Christian, and you want your kids to have Christian friends, the best place of locating them is in a church. It doesn’t even have to be your church, if your church doesn’t have a lot of kids. Go to a lot of city-wide events and get to know other Christian parents in your area. Socialize as much as possible, and you will find people. It means being willing to open up your home and have people over for dinner. It means being willing to go out to some of these events as a family. But the great thing about finding friends for your kids is that chances are you find friends for yourselves, too!
Helping Your Kids Make Friends: the High School Years
Find a Great Youth Group
Then, as kids get older, the key is youth groups. Kids need a youth group where they can explore their faith, feel safe, and negotiate leaving the nest a bit. My kids have been in two different youth groups at two different churches, and let me tell you, not all youth groups are a good influence.
They’ve been in one where it was just so large you got lost in the crowd. It was so focused on outreach (which is a good thing) that there wasn’t solid teaching for the kids who did believe (which is a bad thing). The culture of the group was so “seeker oriented” that those who were new or who were exploring the faith often set the tone for what was acceptable behaviour. The end result is that the girls spent their lives talking fashion magazines and celebrity culture and make-up–in grade 7! I fail to see how this is much different from school.
At the other youth group it’s only about twenty kids. Every kid knows each other. They hang out together. They have debates on whether it’s okay to date before you’re 18, or whether there’s a purpose to dating if you’re not going to marry the person. When they find out that one kid is smoking, they all collectively do an intervention. They’re there for each other. The kids are not all perfect, not by a long shot. Many are from difficult family situations. But the atmosphere is different.
Find a youth group for your teen where they connect and feel comfortable in a good way (if they feel comfortable talking about fashion magazines and how much of a pain mothers are, that’s not good). Talk to other parents. Ask what their children get out of youth group. If nothing spiritual is brought up, that’s likely a bad sign.
Sometimes you may have to go to a youth group at a church other than yours. I think that’s okay, and many kids, especially at the junior high age, are more than willing to try something else, especially if they have one friend who is going. So it’s not always a bad idea to try a number of youth groups until you find a good fit.
Another place to meet great friends, as a teenager, is by serving somewhere larger that your local church. Go on a summer missions trip with other teenagers (usually only those stronger in the faith go there!). Counsel at a camp. Volunteer at an inner-city mission. Encourage your kids to go somewhere where you can make a difference and serve, and they will meet other kids their age who also want to make a difference and serve. That’s a good thing!
Why Christian Friendships Matter
Now let me rant for a minute (as if I haven’t been doing so already) and tell you why I believe that kids fall away from the church as they leave for university, and why this youth group thing is so important.
If your faith is strong, whether you’re a teen or an adult, then you will naturally want your closest friends to share that faith, because you want people you can pray with, and talk about the most important thing in your life to. Seeking out Christian friends is a sign of the depth of one’s faith.
So Christian teens need to have their faith strong enough that they will seek out Christian friends. As teenagers, our kids must have the experience of Christian friendship, so that when they move out on their own, even if it’s in another city away from their friends, they will naturally gravitate towards church and Christian groups because they will want to find those types of close friends again. Their first allegiance must be to some Christian friends, which is why it is so important that you work on helping your children make Christian friends.
Otherwise they will go away to college, or move away to work, and they will not seek out a campus Christian group or a good church. When kids feel that their friends must be Christian, they will gravitate towards Christian groups because they need friends. The first thing I did on arriving at Queen’s University was to find Queen’s Christian Fellowship, within a day of getting on campus. There I met my husband and friends I still have today. Of course I had other friends in my university days, many who were not Christian. But I knew I would only find kindred spirits at the Christian group, so I went out of my way to connect there.
If kids have as their primary kindred spirits kids who don’t believe, then it’s highly unlikely they will make a big effort to find a church or fellowship when they move out on their own. They’re used to existing socially without it. They may love God, but they figure that they can go to church when they visit home. They don’t have to keep it up. So they don’t, and they fall away.
If you want your kids to continue in the faith, make sure their deepest friendships are with other Christians. Encourage those friendships. Seek out good youth groups. Change churches if you have to. If your child identifies too much with school or with peer groups that aren’t Christian, then chances are they won’t seek out a church later. I have seen so many of my dearest friends and relatives go that route, and it’s heartbreaking. They believed as a teen, but they didn’t stay because they didn’t need the social circle.
So be a matchmaker for your kids! Get them good friends. And keep your kids loving God.