Here in our home, we are entering into a new season: My oldest son is nearing fourteen, and the next one is almost twelve, and change is in the air.
Gone are the days when our plans revolved around family, and work, and family, and family.
Suddenly, almost all at once, my two oldest boys seem really focused on FRIENDS. Friends. Friends.
I know it’s normal. And healthy.
I expected it.
I am just really wanting to navigate through it all well.
My boys are homeschooled, and though there is a misconception out there that homeschoolers might lack socialization, that kind of drives me nuts. In fact, if I get started on that topic, I will get way off track here, because I really could go on (and on and on) about why I think that is a ridiculous idea. (Perhaps I’ll write about that topic specifically one day.) Though I don’t think it is right for everyone, and I believe that each family can choose what is best for their own kids, I am convinced that homeschooling, done right, provides ample opportunities for not only socialization, but QUALITY socialization.
(Now I dare you to ask me about socialization and homeschooling. hehe.)
Back to today’s topic…
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about helping my kids navigate through the world of friendships.
Not because my kids are homeschooled, but because they are growing up.
And growing up can be really hard.
I’m thinking about tweens and teens and their desire to have good friends. And I’m thinking about how every young person experiences a longing for FRIENDS, and a desire to fit in, and probably some loneliness now and then. You can’t always tell by looking, because this can be true whether they have a hundred friends, or no friends at all.
I know it was true for me growing up.
And whether your kids talk to you about it or not, I’m pretty sure that ALL KIDS spend plenty of time thinking about this stuff.
If you haven’t already, you might ask your own kids about it.
I’m thankful that my boys still do talk to me about things like this. I love that they listen to my husband and my counsel, and that they know we truly care about everything that they go through. (praying this continues!)
Depending on the kind of community you live in, the challenges will vary. For folks like us who live in a smaller community, there are unique “small town” challenges. Sometimes kids just don’t feel like they have found anyone that they really connect with. Every kid would love to find someone who is a lot like themselves…A friend that shares the same interests, moral convictions, and so on. And if they don’t find someone to really relate to, it can be lonely.
But kids will still want to fit in–they feel the need TO belong, and to hang out with other kids, because that is how people are wired.
Kids in their preteen and teen years have an especially strong desire to fit in with their peers.
A really sad thing for me to see is when those kids that my boys once connected with as innocent youngsters begin to make choices that you know are taking them down the wrong path. My sons have recently told me: “I heard that so and so got drunk, Mom.” And “this friend was suspended for this or that.” It bums them out, and they get confused wondering whether these kids can still be their buddies, or if they need to close this particular friendship chapter.
God give them wisdom.
My husband has shared his own experience about what he went through when he was a young teenager. He says that he watched as a handful of his closest friends began to make bad choices. One by one, they were experimenting with alcohol and drugs, and getting into trouble. Being the wise young kid that he was, Dave knew that he needed to distance himself from them, so that he didn’t risk being taken down with them. He says that for a few years he was actually quite lonely. He remembers riding his bike home from school every day for lunch, where he would sit at the table and eat with his mom.
Haha. I know it sounds a little pathetic, but he was ok with it. He didn’t die. He grew up well–and eventually had a lot of great friends. He played soccer in high school and college, and was very popular. But he waited out those awful years when he couldn’t find the right friends. I do think that his ability to keep perspective and be patient is rare. I personally can’t imagine having been that way as a kid. (That’s why my story is different, but that is another topic.)
One of the classic stories Dave has told me was about a time when he was hanging out with a group of boys and one of them pulled out a magazine with (!!) naked women in it. Dave literally turned and RAN…All the way home!! Obviously he had heard the Bible story of Joseph running from Potiphar’s wife when she tried to seduce him enough to know what to do!
But if I can be serious for a minute–that act–that running away!? I THANK GOD FOR IT. It is a known fact that kids who spend time looking at pornography at a young age can begin a lifetime of addiction that can ultimately ruin their lives.
I’m so glad he ran.
(I’m so glad his parents taught him well.)
So back to kids and friends:
We’ve been told by more than one friend from our local public schools that kids in the Junior High share pornography with each other on their cell phones IN THE CLASSROOM.
All of the time.
And sadly, some of the kids that I have heard are doing that are church-going kids that my boys have spent a lot of time with.
So what do you do, parents? Clearly, unless you raise your kids in a bubble, they will see and experience real life people with real life challenges and that is normal. But isn’t a huge part of our job as parents helping them figure out how to deal with these things when they come face to face with them?
How can you help your kid make choices with friends? Will they even listen?
One thing I think is so important is keeping the communication open between you and your kids. Talk to them often. Even when it’s awkward. And as much as possible, stay close to your kids. This isn’t easy, and for some families just giving your kids enough TIME can take great sacrifice. But it is SO worth it.
if you are a family that is FUN TO BE WITH, it will be much easier to get the kids to hang out with you. We are doing all we can to make our home a place that our boys want to have friends spend time at. For us, just getting a Wii game and a trampoline has made our boys more likely to invite kids to our home instead of longing to go to their friends’ homes.
Talking with your kids specifically through the topic of friendships is so important. They may be more open to your wisdom and counsel than you think. Unfortunately, young teenagers often aren’t mature enough to understand some of these concepts, and we need to accept that as well. (remember when you were 15?) You can talk all day about “waiting for the right friends,” yet they’re still likely to jump at the chance to hang out with the “cool kids”–even if they are up to no good.
It still can’t hurt to talk about it.
Granted–Some our kids are ready to face the challenge! If you’ve taught them well, they may stand in the face of temptation, and come out strong. They might be ready to jump into social scenes and not be pulled down by them. Perhaps you are sure that your kid is ready, and if so–you’ve probably built an incredible foundation already. Well done.
However, you may also feel in your gut that as much as you WANT TO make your kids happy (WE ALL WANT HAPPY KIDS!!!) you need to pull them back and say NO.
When you feel that way–I say GO WITH YOUR GUT.
Remember that we are called to be their PARENTS–NOT THEIR BEST FRIENDS.
One day they will thank us.
A family friend shared a quote with me a few years ago, and it is one of my all-time favorites:
“SHOW ME YOUR FRIENDS, AND I’LL SHOW YOU YOUR FUTURE.”
My boys don’t always love me reminding them of this, but they can’t argue with it either.
I really want to encourage all of you: Whether you are a mom or a dad, an aunty or uncle–Kids need you. They need your strength, and your guidance. Tell them you believe in them, set an example for them, and lead them to wisdom as they navigate all of the things that they face! (We find the book of Proverbs in the Bible to be an amazing help. With 31 chapters, one chapter a day gets you and your kids through the month–every month. And what is especially cool–kids SEE the relevance of these practical pieces of wisdom to their lives today!)
I hope you’ll share in response to this: Your thoughts, successes, challenges, or questions. We all need each other in this massive, overwhelming, beautiful job of parenting!