All parents worry about the influence other children have on their own children. And all parents want to protect their children from negative influences. But when parents tell their child not to be friends with another child, it usually has the exact opposite effect. Pointing out that another child is a bad influence creates resentment and anger. So what should an adult do when a child has started hanging out with individuals who are having a negative influence?
First, we must consider what creates bonds between people. In general, it is our commonalities that bind us together. When we have something in common with somebody, we think, “Oh, I like that person. She gets me. We have the same interests.” If a child gravitates toward friends who are interested in smoking, hanging out on the streets late at night, or other negative or risky behaviors, that means the child feels accepted by those people and may have some common interests or, in many cases, some common pain.
Pulling children away from these negative friends will not work, because there is a common bond. Instead, we must help children develop healthy interests and behaviors. We must help them get to a better place emotionally and find more positive interests. The healthier a child is, the more likely he or she will associate with healthy friends. The more positive and healthy interests a child has, the more likely he or she will cultivate friends who have those same interests. Remember, we cannot usually pull children away from unhealthy friendships, but when we foster newer healthier mindsets, we can gently nudge our children toward healthier friends.
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Rabbi Yaacov Behrman
824 Eastern Parkway
Brooklyn, NY 11213