The Ups and Downs of Friendships: When Parents Don’t Like Their Child's Friends
The upsides of friendships are considerable and start early. Humans are born social, and even babies reach out for contact. During the toddler years, social interaction flourishes in the playground, child care settings, and preschool programs. As their world expands children are constantly interacting with peers in school, teams, clubs, and other groups. Although friendships do not supplant the warmth and intimacy of family, they provide opportunities to learn how to get along with others, to make decisions in different situations, and to enjoy the companionship of others. Friendships provide deep and satisfying life experiences which build self-esteem and self-confidence.
Friendships change over time
In the early and middle years, activities are often planned and supervised, so parents can easily decide who their children see and don't see. In middle school demands change—children have to manage themselves, social relationships are more complex, and the pressure to be like everyone else escalates. By the teen years parents are not their children's only influence and they have less control over their children's friendships. As teenagers struggle to become more independent, it's natural for them to bond with peers, and many teenagers are closer to their friends at times than to their families.
Although peer pressure starts early, it intensifies in middle and high school when peers influence the music teens listen to, the clothing they wear, and the activities they take part in—studying for a test, practicing a sport, volunteering for a community service project, the list is long. But some teenagers, while exploring and learning about themselves, may be attracted to peers that parents may be concerned about.
When friendship has a downside
Peer pressure, although positive for many teens, can also have a negative impact. If a teen admires another teen or group whose behavior he thinks is "cool," he may be distracted from constructive activities such as completing homework, trying out for a team, respecting speed limits and drinking laws, and be swayed to break rules or try risky behaviors. Teens who have a history of difficult behavior and poor relationships with their peers can be attracted to other teens with antisocial or delinquent behavior.
Reprinted with the permission of the NYU Child Study Center. © NYU Child Study Center.
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