Monday, September 14, 2009


Parents often worry about the friends to whom their children attach.  They wonder if the friendships are healthy and positive.  They're not sure if they have the right to pass judgement on those friendships.  It's my opinion that parents should exert influence on their children's choice of playmates.

Without doubt, the major social force shaping the child is the family.  This influence may be helpful or not. A child's attachment to home may or may not be intense.  But, throughout a child's developmental years, and that is from birth to 20+ years old, the home can be, and usually is, the child's primary developmental resource.  Second to the home are a child's peers.  Peer influence is a powerful shaper of personality and values throughout a person's life.  Increasingly, electronic media is fulfilling this role along with close human contacts.  The brain records and replicates what it sees.  So, unfortunately, "reality" tv is real to the brain.

Thus, kids are prone to accept and imitate that which they see.  Teachers have recognized for years that classes demonstrate a sort of personality, different from previous classes.  This so-called "personality" is relatively stable across classrooms and years.  Why?  I think it's because young people see and experience the dominant personalities in that group.  Over time, they become more like those personalities.  Should a parent or teacher "judge" or evaluate the child's social relationships?  I say, "Yes," quite emphatically.  To not do so would be abandoning a major responsibility as an adult:  guiding the growth of those in our charge.

Should the adult forbid such relationships?  I think not.  We've all heard about the "forbidden fruit."  By forcefully attempting to direct the child's associations, the adult runs the great and real risk of pushing their child more deeply into such attachments.  There are better tools available.  By encouraging a wide variety of activities, many with the family, but outside activities like church, sports, and clubs as well, the parent helps the child construct a more divers and realistic "reality."  Having many attachments allows the child to evaluate people and actions in a broader and, I think, safer context.  Even television, with it's slick appeals to dominating the brain, will have less impact on a child's development if the child has broad experience with real people and activities.

Influence is the key.  It can be direct in the way that the "right way" is modeled by parents in the family. It can be indirect through a broad spectrum of activities outside the home.  "Reality therapy"can be a powerful force in shaping the values of our young people.

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