By Danny Huerta, MSW, LCSW, LSSW
“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.’” – C.S. Lewis
I don’t know about you, but I can still vividly remember playing sports with friends, laughing, playing video games, dreaming, going to camp, and sharing painful moments with friends as I grew up. In my role as a dad, I’ve gotten to listen to my son and daughter try to decipher and process dynamics and moments with their friends. The reality is that friendships can quickly shift and can take a child on a wild emotional ride. So as they head back to school and re-establish their friendships, it is critical that we, as parents, guide them to make wise choices when choosing friends.
Friendships have a fascinating impact on our lives, some positive, and some negative. Friendships can motivate and can distract. My daughter has said, “Dad, I can’t help laughing in class when my friends start laughing.” There is something contagious about friends. As a dad and as a counselor, I have seen the incredible impact friendships can have on children.
Back To School
As our kids head back to school (online or in-person), some kids are looking forward to seeing their friends and some are dreading the feelings of rejection. The pandemic has offered some new challenges for maintaining friendships, and the school year is compounding some of the challenges. Keep in mind that you may need to be creative in helping provide moments of connection for your child.
I realize you may have some anxiety about whether or not your child is masked or exposed to the virus while hanging out with friends, which is a valid worry. Take some time to come up with a list of ideas for connection this coming school year. This is a time for problem-solving together to help your child be connected with his or her friends. Loneliness continues to be on the rise, as well as boredom, so this is going to be an important and intentional task you take on with your family.
Listed below are the five reasons friendships are essential in your child’s life. Help your child understand the importance of choosing well when it comes to friends. I was recently talking with a young man in his early twenties who had been heavily involved in drugs since his teen years. He is now in the process of getting his life together. This young man told me that close to twenty of his friends are now in jail. We talked about how he chooses his friends. He has been wrestling with the fact that he has to learn healthy ways to pursue friendships. Wisdom is an essential component when choosing friends.
1. Friendships Build Beliefs
How have your friendships impacted you? How did you pick your friends? What is a healthy friendship and unhealthy friendship?
Beliefs are the driving engine to our thoughts, emotions, and actions. Friendships can have a profound influence on what we believe about ourselves and the world around us. The Bible tells us in Proverbs 22:24-25, “Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man, lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare.”
Take some time to talk about ways friends have impacted your beliefs and ways friends have impacted your child’s beliefs. I remember playing at a high school basketball game, looking up, and seeing a few signs friends had made for the game. What a treat! But what was fascinating is the belief it created on the value I brought to the game. Friends can fuel internal and external action, but it’s important to understand in which direction (Proverbs 4:23).
It’s important to ask yourself, “What messages is my child getting from his or her peers? Where is he or she making friends? What kind of friendships is he or she developing?”
2. Friendships Lead Us Toward Growth
The second reason why friendship is important is that it can lead us toward growth, connection, and personal improvement. On the other side of that coin, however, it can lead us toward personal destruction, emotional pain, and distractions if we are not careful with who we choose to be our friends. Friends influence our children within three core needs that we all are hard-wired to have.
Three Core Needs
Every person has three core needs:
1. A Sense of Belonging – Ask, “Do you feel like you belong or that you have to find ways to fit in with your friends?” In other words, “Are you stressed about what they think of you? Or are you at peace when you’re hanging out with them?”
2. A Sense of Worth – You can ask, “Do you feel worthwhile when you’re with your friends, or do you have to find ways to make yourself feel worthwhile around your friends?” In other words, “Do your friends make you feel like you’re a valuable person to them? Or do you have to be constantly guessing whether they care about you or not?”
3. A Sense of Competence – You can ask, “Do your friends build you up or encourage you, or do they constantly put you down?” In other words, “What messages do they help build in you about you when you do stuff together or try new, challenging things?”
These three areas help a child discover their identity and will form a foundation for their identity and character.
Some kids may think that rebelling or asserting independence means growth; however, it simply means eventual unhappiness, anger, disappointment. Ask your child, what do you see in this friend or these friends? What do you love about them and about being with them? How are they contributors or builders in your life as you are in theirs?
3. Friendships Give the Opportunity to Help Build Contributor Skills Rather Than Consumer Skills
Every relationship has some give and take. One of the reasons why friendship is important is that, as friends, our kids can contribute to the growth and encouragement of their friends. From the beginning, God has called us to be contributors in His kingdom story, which includes “one-anothering.”
1 Thessalonians 5:11 instructs us, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” Teaching kids how to be contributors in their friendships—helping each other in times of need, encouraging each other, and praying for each other—can help them form solid foundations for friendships and relationships later in life.
Help your children become contributor friends rather than consumer friends this school year. Teach them to become aware of how their friends influence them and how they influence friends around them. For older kids, help them set a vision to become contributors to other people’s lives rather than consumers. They have the power to be an amazingly positive influence on others, or they can negatively influence them. With younger kids, provide examples and opportunities to be contributors rather than consumers in the home and during playtime with other kids.
4. Friendships Can Encourage Our Walk with Christ
Have you ever had a good friend who was closer than a brother to you and challenged you to have a deeper relationship with Christ? Children, especially, tend to become like the people with who they spend time. If our kids are spending time with friends who are believers in the Lord, they will likely begin to grow in maturity in their relationship with Christ. However, if their friends are not followers of Christ, they may influence our children into wrongdoing and wrong thinking.
Ephesians 5:6-7 tells us, “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them.” As parents, we need to encourage our children to forge strong friendships with fellow believers in Christ. Be sure to ask your kids, “Are your friendships building your relationship with Christ? Or are they tearing you away?”
5. Friendships Can Pave the Way for Solid Relationships as an Adult
The way our kids see the world around them all starts with attachment as a baby. Newborns become attached to their parents as a matter of survival. This healthy attachment helps them to grow and develop in positive ways. If attachment with parents is interrupted, the child is at higher risk for adverse events later in their lives.
As babies grow into children, their attachment begins to shift from their parents to their friends. In much the same way as the bond with their parents, healthy attachment in friendships helps our children grow. These healthy attachments will also have an impact on all other relationships, including the relationship with their future spouse. If children do not form healthy friendships in their formative years, the odds of having relationship issues later in life significantly increase.
At the end of every movie, the credits roll with acknowledgments of all the people who made that film. If our lives, or our children’s lives, were a movie—who would be in the rolling credits? Which people contributed to our growth and our success? Who helped us grow closer to the Lord?
Let’s do an activity—let’s create rolling credits! First, have your child grab a piece of paper and a pencil, pen, marker, or crayon. Next, draw two lines horizontally across the page, dividing the paper into three sections. Then draw a line down the center to divide the paper in half. You should have six boxes on the page.
In the first box on the left, write Contributors (Investors). Then, in the first box on the right, write Consumers. In the middle left box, write Encouragers; in the middle right box, write Discouragers. Finally, in the bottom left box, write Influencers and, in the bottom right box, write Distractors.
Next, have your child write the names of his or her friends in each of the sections. Then talk about their rolling credits sheet to help them learn how their friends impact their lives. You can share the rolling credits from your life to demonstrate how each friendship has played out in your own life and what you have learned from them.
This sheet of paper will help guide your discussion about what friendships might be best for your child to pursue and which ones may need additional boundaries. Some may even need to end this school year as your child continues to grow, develop, and pursue interests, dreams, responsibilities, and relationships. Discussing this with your children can help them make wise choices as they learn why friendship is important.
Be sure to have discussions with your children about their friendships and ask them open-ended questions about them. Here are a few questions to get you started:
- How much do your friends influence who you are?
- How important are the opinions of your friends?
- What does it mean to be a friend?
- How can you contribute to your friendships?
- Are your friendships building up your relationship with Christ, or are they tearing you away from Him?
- Which friends are good influences on you? Which friends are negative influences?
- Why is friendship important to you?
© 2020 by Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. https://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/back-to-school-why-friendship-is-important-for-children/