Do You Choose Your Children's Friends?

16/12/2013 10:39 | Updated 22 May 2015

Do you choose your children's friends?Getty

I remember when I was 11 and I had a friend, let's call her Anne. She was my newest and best friend at secondary school. My parents, for no good reason I could fathom, thought she was a bad influence. "That girl will do nothing with her life," they pronounced. And worse still, "You should drop the friendship."

Anne left school at 16 and worked in a run-down department store in town, whilst I went on to higher education. Our friendship petered out years before that. Did that make my parents right? I don't know, but I do know that the more they disliked Anne, the more convinced I was of her good qualities.

It taught me a lesson that was to come in useful as my own children forged friendships - but I know that I, and my friends, are all guilty of trying to steer our children into what we perceive to be "good" and "bad" friendships.

I rarely disliked any of my children's friends, but I was often concerned about their parents: this, in turn, influenced my enthusiasm for those friends.

There was the friend whose father was, according to school gate gossip, an alcoholic - or as near as damn it. I'd drop my daughter off at her friend's house, only to find out later that the father had driven them somewhere, which made my blood run cold. Similarly, he would delegate childcare to his teenage son, while he went out.

Then there were the friends who wanted to stay out in the evening and whose parents didn't seem to want them back home at a reasonable time, even though it was school the following day. Education didn't seem important to them - so would this rub off on my daughter?

Many parents, such as Helen, do believe that friends exert a powerful influence. "I have definitely tried to steer my children towards friends whom I like myself, because they are polite and well mannered. Partly to make life easier for myself when they come over, but also because friends are such an important influence on your child's behaviour."

Helen also noted: "When my son (now 11) was younger he had a tendency to befriend the 'naughty' boys because they seemed more fun and he was drawn to the rebellious side of their character. But, thankfully, the novelty of being around troublemakers wore off as he got older. I now like all his friends. Maybe, it's to do with maturity but I find his mates charming, interesting to talk to and very respectful."

But Helen is going through it all again with her daughter. "My six-year-old daughter is still going through the phase of being impressed by the cheeky kids but, as with my son, I feel confident she will come outside the other side and make more sensible choices."

Jennifer was very unsure about a friendship her daughter Fleur had. "I felt her friend, who was uninterested in school, was potentially a bad influence, especially during years 7 and 8 when we were trying our best to help Fleur settle in and cope with lots of homework."

So did Jennifer ban her as a friend? "I never banned her, but I did suggest Fleur socialised with other girls. For instance, if my daughter asked if she could take a friend shopping, I would suggest two or three girls, but not the one I was not keen on."

Thankfully, Fleur seems to have seen the light. At a recent mufti day, Fleur came home and announced to her mum that the friend was "dressed like a tart," and is now completely out of favour.

Emma told me about her daughter's friendship. "I had an issue with a friend of my six-year-old daughter who either hated or loved her depending on which day of the week it was. This made Alice's life very hard when she wasn't in favour!

"I was also sworn at and threatened by the child's father who thought mistakenly I had complained to the school. A group of five parents had got together to complain about this child bullying theirs but I was not involved. It became so bad I spoke to Alice about avoiding the child and trying to keep clear but in a small school this was not easy! Luckily Alice has moved schools now and has lots of lovely friends!"

So what should parents do? Do these dubious friendships appear more exciting and appealing the more we try to steer our children away? Both my son and my daughter now have lovely friends. My daughter now smiles wryly when we have a giggle about the friends I disapproved of - because she now agrees with my perception of them.

But then, mother's always right. Or is she?

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