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Inspire Encourage

Debbie Sanders, director of Today’s Christian Girl, discusses the important role parents play in helping their children develop and maintain healthy friendships.

One of the greatest gifts we are afforded in life is friendships. Children, pre-teens, and teens often need guidance from adults—parents, pastors, and student leaders—when making true friends. As adults, we have been down the road a few years and have learned, sometimes the hard way, that our choice of friends is important.

Your Role
It is important that you spend time getting to know your child’s friends. Invite them over for dinner, give them a ride home after a church activity, or talk with their parents. Pray about your child’s friendships. Don’t be paranoid or overbearing, but if you feel a check in your spirit, watch and guide cautiously.

Don’t forget that they are watching how you treat your friends, as well as the importance you put on investing in and growing friendships. They will follow your example. Teenage and pre-teen years are when children struggle with self-esteem and are trying to discover and establish their own identity. This can often give way to drama. It is the responsibility of parents and youth leaders to address these friendship issues in a helpful way. Consider the following:

1. Do not overreact in a way that encourages drama; avoid being critical.

2. Remember that there are two sides to every story. Don’t assume that someone has intentionally hurt your child or youth.

3. Try to help the child see past the action to the motive. Did the other person react due to embarrassment? Was it just an oversight and not deliberate?
4. While encouraging them to share their heart with you, teach them not to discuss their hurt with others. Proverbs 17:9 tells us that he who repeats a matter separates close friends.

Initiate talks about friendships. Important issues to discuss are:

1. No friendship is perfect. Friendship issues are a normal part of life and all friendships have their challenges.
2. Learn to accept and overlook quirks in others. Accept people for who they are. Others will have different views than us, but a good relationship does not hinge on two people agreeing on everything.
3. On-off friendships are not healthy. If someone is your friend only when it is convenient or when no one else is around, they are not a true friend.
4. Spending all your time with one friend is not healthy. Be consistent and friendly to everyone, not just your closest friends. Encourage them not to form cliques that exclude others.

Toxic Friendships
Sometimes we find that people are not what we initially thought they were. They might talk bad about others, are unkind and dishonest, or do not display the characteristics of a Christian.

Teach that when someone’s influence causes you to lose your identity, it is time to exit the friendship. Proverbs 13:20 says, “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.” We become like our friends whether we want to or not. Our friendships influence who we are and how we act. Don’t sacrifice your own individuality or change who you are just so you can be granted the privilege of belonging to a certain group. Learn to appreciate the unique things about yourself.

“Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character’” (I Corinthians 15:33, NIV). Teach your children to use wisdom and to have the courage to sever relationships that become toxic or unhealthy, thus frenemies.

Establishing Friendships
Teach your child that their attitude and the way they present themselves will either attract people or turn them away. Are they approachable? Do they smile and greet others when they first see them? Do they respect others’ talents and gifts or resent them for having abilities that they do not? Negative people do not attract friendships.

If others are made to feel comfortable in their presence, people will seek it again, thus forging a friendship. The wise King Solomon taught us in Proverbs 18:24 that if one wishes to make friends, they must first be friendly.

Maintaining Friendships
Friendships are two-way streets. If one friend shares their heart and the other does not, the friendship is left wanting and can only grow to a certain degree. One study showed the more authentic—meaning the more open and honest—a child is about their true feelings the more likely they are to have closer connections with their friends.

Friendships require a certain amount of vulnerability to grow. It is a task that requires time and energy, and can sometimes even get messy, but the result is something beautiful that truly makes life sweeter.

FROM: UPCI Family Ministries family@upci.org

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