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I had a "bad" friend in
the 8th grade. Cami
was not particularly interested in school, made no effort to talk to grown-ups,
invited me into her teenage cousin's convertible Cabriolet where we hung our
torsos over the sides and careened around Santa Monica, and hosted sleepovers
with absent parents and lots of her older brothers' friends who smoked pot in
the next room.
My parents never forbid me
to spend time with Cami, or even discouraged it. But I do remember one comment my dad made
when her name came up: "I don’t get it."
It stuck with me, because
neither of my parents had ever passed judgment on any of my friends before. My
father didn’t understand Cami's appeal, but how could he? He also didn't
understand the big deal over Adam Ant or Howard Jones.
Cut to decades later: My
son is a mere 4th grader, and yet I feel the need to express my opinion
about everyone who enters his world, however peripherally. "Oooo, that’s rude," I'll say. Or, "Maybe you should spend time with someone else." The other day,
after I noticed another boy steal a basketball away from Eddie and run off with
it, I became irate, chased the boy down and made him give it back. Later I said
to Eddie, "You're old enough now that you can choose your friends. You don't
have to hang out with someone just because he's in your class." To which Eddie
responded, "But I choose him."
I told my husband that
story later, and he didn't like the sound of the incident, but said, "Boys do
that stuff. I remember holding a sharpened pencil upright on Brian's chair in
the 2nd grade so he would sit on it. It went straight into his butt and he rolled over screaming." As Brian's mother, I would have flown into a rage and never let him associate with that boy again. Not only is Brian my husband's best friend to this day, I married the little twerp.
So does this mean we as parents stand by while our kids hang out with friends who are sometimes rude, arrogant and disrespectful of adults?
experts tell us, 4th grade marks the beginning of the "tween" years; when
many of our children start to pull away from parents, become more private and
independent, confront the notion of mortality, encounter the onset of puberty and question authority. For the first time they begin to value their peers, in
many ways, above their families. Crap!
So does this mean we
as parents stand by while our kids hang out with friends who are sometimes
rude, arrogant and disrespectful of adults? Kids who eat loads of junk food, talk
incessantly about video games, introduce swear words, manipulate, lie, boast
competitively and belittle others in insidious ways?
If the answer is no, what
on earth are we supposed to do? Discipline the child (if that child happens to
be in our home or car)? C’mon, mom, that
is soooooo embarrassing! Talk to the parent? We all know the apple doesn't
fall far from the tree. Reinforce our own values to our kid? The best option
yet, but one we know could backfire when you attack the offending kid: If Mom is going to get all lecture-y when I
tell her about something Ryan did, I just won't tell her anything anymore.
I've done all of the
above, and I can't say any of my precautions have had the intoxicating pull of,
say, a charismatic 10-year-old with a floppy haircut, a pair of awesome Nike
Elites and a basketball.
My husband says you can't
choose your kid's friends. Psychologist Alvin Rosenfeld, a lecturer at Harvard
medical school and author of The
Overscheduled Child: Avoiding the Hyper-Parenting Trap, agrees. I
interviewed Dr. Rosenfeld a few years ago about a similar topic, and he said
something that stuck with me: "We
can’t be better authors of our kids' lives than they can be of their own. I've
been friends my whole life with people my parents didn't approve of. [Children]
are better judges of who suits them than we are."
reaction to that is, "Even if their friends are douchebags?" Unfortunately, even then, I think the answer is yes.
My kids are going to choose people and interests that I just don't get. But I
don't have to.