Question: What's a mother to do if her child is hanging out with someone she perceives as a troubemaker?
From Judy Goldwyn, mother of two and grandmother of two:
One of the few benefits of being part of the older generation is that I have experienced this situation more than once. While that might not seem a positive, I think living through it gives us the perspective to deal with it effectively. Whether it was 35 years ago, or last year, the only variable is the severity of the trouble the classmate might present. There is something enticing about a peer who lives on the edge, or even over the edge when it comes to doing the right thing. Even the most well-intended, carefully raised child may want to explore places we wish they would leave alone.
And remember, your child's new friend might not actually be the troublemaker his reputation alleges. Keep an open mind!
While they are in elementary school, it is easier, of course. Whether the child is in day care because the parent is working, or comes directly home from school, there are steps we can take to keep our children on the right track.
- Attend school conferences where you can speak with the teacher one-on-one. Although the teacher is not going to say, “Keep Johnny away from Teddy,” you can diplomatically find out which children are positive influences. Drop a few names of children you’ve met or those your child has mentioned. The teacher’s reaction might give you the information you need.
- Ask around. Other parents whose judgment you trust can help you identify classmates who provide a less than wonderful influence on others.
- Keep your eyes opened. If your child wants to play with a new classmate outside of school, suggest that they play in your house. And keep your ears attuned to what they are doing. Pass by the room where they are playing several times during the play-date and check up on them by offering a snack periodically.
This might appear to be espionage, but I prefer to call it “Protection of the Innocent.” If the child is truly a troublemaker, he won’t want to play at your house after the first or second time because he’ll know he can’t get away with anything there. If your child is invited to his house, be sure to limit the time he’ll be there – two hours is good - walk your child to the door, insist on meeting the parent who will be at home supervising the children, and pick him up promptly and go to the door to do it.
Finally, hope for the best. Your child’s good instincts, planted by you, will probably kick in, and he’ll feel uncomfortable if he crosses the line at the encouragement of the other child. Even if he doesn’t show it, and is outwardly unhappy about your constant presence, persist.
As your children get older, it is harder and harder to monitor their social lives. You should count on those earlier days when your influence was more important to him, and still follow some of the suggestions above. Make your home the hang-out for the kids by providing the welcoming atmosphere that will make them feel comfortable. It can be sports equipment (a basketball hoop in the driveway), computer games, ping pong, a WII or X-Box, a place where they can listen to their music at whatever volume they choose, plenty of snacks (they don’t have to be unhealthy, just tasty and plentiful) and comfortable seating where they can sprawl, lie down, put their feet up and “hang.” And continue to keep an eye on what’s happening. Let them know you’re there, but don’t intrude.
It is impossible to avoid all negative influences in your child’s life, and that is a lesson to learn as well. Give them the tools (strength) to say no when they know it’s the right thing to say. Back them up when they make good choices, and help them learn from their mistakes. But, most of all, I’ve found that letting them know you are there, physically and emotionally, is the most important thing you can do.
From Larissa Watt, mother of two:
This topic brings back my father's words echoing in my head,"If you hang with dogs, you will get fleas!"
I have mixed views on this subject. Parents may have varying opinions on what a "troublemaker" is. Could this be the class clown or the one skipping class and being disrespectful to the teachers? Or perhaps a student is known as a troublemaker because he/she is always getting into fights. But what if that student is always getting into fights because he is constantly bullied? Unless we know the child personally and know without a a doubt he is maliciously causing problems, do we really have a right to label them as a troublemaker?
I like to think that if I instill morals and values in my children, they will learn to make the right decisions. I am also realistic in the realization that some children succumb to peer pressure or follow a peer's lead to fit in. In this case, should I pick and choose all of my children's friends so they will never get into trouble?
I feel this should be decided on a case-by-case basis. If my child was lacking self- control when around a certain group of friends, I would have a talk with him. If this persisted and they were getting into minor trouble when together, I would most likely only allow them to hang out with that friend or group under my supervision.
By a certain age, kids should know right from wrong and I would like them to have sound judgment, but at the same time kids are human and as adults they make mistakes and will hopefully learn from them. If this issue persisted and turned into a significant problem such as grades failing due to skipping class, getting into trouble with the law, or otherwise unruly behavior and this had direct ties to the "troublemaker," I may have to eliminate that new friend from my child's life.
It is our job to teach our kids to do the right thing, guide them and allow them to have a certain degree of independence and allow them to learn from their mistakes. At the same time, I feel we must intervene when they have strayed off the path.