When is it appropriate to get involved in the happenings of our child’s friendships? Particularly in the case of unhealthy behaviors, such as bullying? I want to protect my child from being a victim, but also don’t want to destroy her trust in me by “butting in” and controlling the situation or the outcome of the friendship.
It is my belief that it is a parent’s job to keep their children safe, to help them stay healthy, and to love them to the best of their ability. This encompasses a lot of different areas of their lives and helping them understand and strengthen friendship is an essential part of maintaining mental and emotional health. But an excellent question to ask is when and how much do we get involved.
I feel we should let our children choose their friendships of who they are drawn to and who they want to be around. By definition alone, friendship is meant to enhance our lives and offer us experiences of unity, compassion, and shared joy. Friendships teach us the importance of balance in give and take and there will always be times, like in any relationship, that the balance is thrown off.
A healthy friendship should be able to obtain that balance once again with relative ease and a moderate amount of effort. It is when the friendship/relationship stays unbalanced and takes from us more than it gives, that a more significant change needs to take place. As adults, we have learned this over the years by experiencing it with many different relationships, both good and bad, with each having equal weight of importance. I feel it’s valuable to allow our children to feel these ups and downs so they can experience what works for them and what doesn’t. Yet, it’s equally important to teach our children the definition of friendship and give and take, so they begin to understand the normal highs and lows of friendship, and how it takes both people to make the relationship work well. However, when the imbalance becomes too great, there are critical times when we should intervene.
One of those times is when we see a significant negative impact on our child’s well being, as in the case of being bullied. If we see or hear of our child being put down repeatedly or harmed in any way, we tend to personally feel the anxious energy it creates and it often infuriates us as we become the Supreme Protector of our child. Naturally, we want to guard our child from the hurt of emotional and physical predators. The instinct is to remove them from the situation or not allow them to be exposed to it any more. In reality, we don’t have as much power as we’d like. So the question begs, what should we do that we have control over?
*First and foremost, keep the communication open with your child. Sometimes they will tell you, sometimes they won’t. Sometimes they will tell you through their actions more so than their words , so be aware of any changes in lost interest in places and people they enjoyed before.
*If they are able and willing to verbalize, get as much information as you can so you can help walk them through it. Ask lots of questions on the situations they are in when the negative treatment occurs, who they are with, and why their friend may be responding this way.
*Teach them how to respond. Literally, feed them the words to use to make the situation better. Help them determine the options of what to do when the behavior starts. The more they know what to expect and how to handle it, the more likely they are to have the confidence to respond and defend themselves—which will only increase their self- esteem and ability to handle these situations as they arise again.
*If they are using the words and actions and nothing is changing, contact someone to intervene. If it’s happening in school or on the bus, call the administrator or counselor. If it’s happening at an extra- curricular activity, let the advisor or coach know. It is important that someone is speaking to the other child, because they too need to be taught which behaviors are acceptable and which aren’t. Often times, the person hurting someone else is hurting themselves in some way and is trying to balance out their own internal power struggles, so need to be guided on how to deal with that and make better decisions on how to respond in social situations. It is also suggested that if possible and appropriate, allow and encourage your child to be part of that conversation informing the adult so they are learning how to use their voice in an environment where they feel safe and protected.
As far as the concern of losing your child’s trust if they don’t want you to be involved, you can always tell them it’s your responsibility to ensure that they are safe and healthy and this is the way you show them you love them. (Right now, it’s my excuse for everything for my children and they roll their eyes every time) But as they get older and express that they don’t “want” your support, it’s even more important to give it in ways that are less intrusive and subtle, but still gives them the security of knowing that you are available and ready to help when duty calls.