14/08/2014 12:47 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 06:12 BST

Should We Choose Our Children's Friends?

Should we choose our child's friends?

As the saying goes, you can choose your friends but you can't choose your family.

But Apprentice star Katie Hopkins has admitted she vets her children's friends to ensure only those she deems suitable are allowed to play with her brood.

She confesses that a birthday invitation from 'Charmaine' to a grimy soft play area was politely turned down because they were 'busy'. In reality it's because she took offence at the little girl's pink leggings and pierced ears. Instead she offered an extra tennis lesson with classmate Maisie, presumably because she's from Katie's idea of a better family.

Hopkins shot to fame as the Alpha Female who dared to turn down Sir Alan Sugar and no one can deny that she has carved a busy career in a male-dominated world where women are normally playing a Stepford-Wifey role supporting a successful husband.

But is she really right that many parents do what she admits to - but are too embarrassed to confess they stage-manage their children's pals?


I would say the majority of us are resigned to the fact that our darling sons and daughters choose who they want to play with. If that means endless birthday parties in down-at-heel leisure centres then at least we are pleased our children are having fun.


Surely that's one of the most important part of growing up?

Hopkins says all 'caring mothers' do it, dismissing in one sentence the notion that mums who let children play with friends they choose are somehow less caring, or not bothered about how their offspring turn out.

My toddler loves soft play centres. I'm not ashamed to admit that sometimes (alright, most of the time) I'd rather be enjoying a sunny stroll through our green and pleasant countryside. But the point is that SHE loves it. Part of having children is losing that selfish streak, that concept of me-time where you get to do what you want.

If my two-year-old wanted to hike for two hours along the seafront then, hooray, we'd be doing that 'til the cows came home. But she's a toddler, the terrible twos are striking, and if she is having an awful time the chances are I'm not really full of the joys of spring either.

When they're just babies it's vital to have a network of other new mums and dads with same-aged kids because you're all going through the same experiences. Yes, your own best friend from university may have a little girl two years older than your tiny daughter, but if she lives at the other end of the country and you have an urgent question about weaning she's unlikely to be a) available or b) able to remember what she did. '

Charmaine's' mother, on the other hand, is likely to be in the local park the next day and probably has two sisters with children too - a network of real time help.


Once children hit school age there's a whole world of friendship out there. I'd be more worried if my little one quietly trekked to and from the school gates with never a glimpse of a play date.


So what if you don't have much in common with the other mum? Don't we all possess the ability to make polite conversation over a cup of tea in this day and age? At the very least you have your children in common - and can't we British still manage to talk about the weather if all else fails?

Of course we all want the best for our children. We don't want them hanging around with 'a bad crowd' if that means they're shoplifting and vandalising the bus stop. But if you're doing your best to bring up a well-mannered child you should have the confidence in your own abilities to teach them what is right and wrong.

Hopkins argues she won't let her children 'get dragged down into the quagmire of 'under-performing children.' Her reasoning comes on the back of a recent study in a respected American science journal which showed academic success is infectious.

Scientists discovered that if students' friends were doing better than them at school then their own grades would improve over time. Children see the amount of effort their friends put into homework and start to view that as the norm - so they up the studying accordingly and reap the rewards.

But if all those parents with high-achieving kids acted like Hopkins, where would we be?

Children encouraged to do homework and strive hard in lessons would be surrounded by like-minded pupils - all those positive role models lumped together in a hot-housing ghetto while the rest of society falls by the wayside.

Hopkins admits she 'risks' sounding snobbish, choosing friends with traditional Victorian names for her three - Poppy, India and Max. But what about classmates from other cultures? Friends from other countries even?

At least I'm pleased to learn Hopkins' daughters go to Brownies, one of the few after-school clubs where children often mix with those from other schools. When I was a Brownie leader it was fantastic to watch friendships form where no parent could dare to tread.

Our politest, most privileged pony-riding Brownie was best friends with 'Jade', a little girl living on the nearby traveller site. I never knew what went on when they visited each others' homes - but they shared a love of horses and were the closest of friends.

One final word of caution - if you mollycoddle your primary-aged children with carefully tailored parties and precision-planned music lessons, aren't you worried what might happen when they hit big school?

Teenage rebellion kicks in with a vengeance and suddenly pierced ears are the very least of your problems...

What do you think?

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By: Liz Todd