The righteous choose the friends carefully...Proverbs 12:26 NIV
It is very clear that friends and companions shape one another, and not just in children and teenagers. Adults are influenced by their friends and those they spend time with. Fashion, speech, hobbies, habits, attitudes, opinions and more.
God created us to live in community. He wants us to be in each other’s lives and to strengthen one another. He sent Jesus so that we could be impacted by His miracles, His life, His death and His resurrection. Our Lord longs for us to impact our community with the love of Jesus and to affect those who surround us. We are called to form strong friendships among the people we know. God wants us to be friends.
Our friendships are very important in forming who we are and what we do. It is critical that, as parents, we teach our children not only how to choose good friends but how to be a good friend. This is easier with younger children, but there are some ways that we can all know how to make wise decisions in our choice of companions, friends and partners. Here are three things to consider and to ask your children as you and they choose friendships :
What words are used when you are together?
One key component to choosing friends is to listen to the words they use to communicate. Luke 6:45, NIV says “The mouth speaks what the heart is full of” meaning that you really can know what is going on in someone’s heart by listening to how they speak.
I took an Old Testament course many years ago and the wise professor explained that when God spoke the universe into existence He was sending His spirit out to create. His spirit emerged in the form of His breath with sound. This is what words are: breath with sound.
The professor went on to say that our words are how our spirit goes out to the world. It is our words that indicate more than anything else what our spirits, hearts and minds contain. When we speak, we are sharing our spirit. Listen to how your friends speak.
How do you feel after you have been with your friend?
Some people have a remarkable ability to see the best in us and then point it out so that we can see it too. They naturally lift us up with encouragement, positive comments, jokes and pleasant conversation. The affirming influence that this friend has on your outlook and your mood lasts far beyond the time that you spend together. When you leave you feel at least as good as you did when you arrived. You are, in fact, a better person each time you are with this friend. Not everyone leaves you feeling this way.
Be especially mindful of this with preadolescent children. They may not know how to tell you that their friend is being critical or unkind or bossy or is hurting their feelings. Monitor how they act after a visit with a friend. If they are sad or discouraged or moody or depressed begin to ask gentle questions. Be careful that you don't criticize the friend; this could make your child defend the friend and become more determined to stay in a friendship that may not be healthy. Ask more about the conversations than the play. Be casual in your approach with these questions.
What kind of activities do you do with your friend?
Real friends help us to be our best and we help them in the same way. When you are doing something active with your friends, what are you doing? Activities that are healthy and constructive or creative always bring out the best qualities in people.
When you are with your friend, make sure that whatever you are doing is, at the very least, not harmful. If you and a friend are doing things together that hurt others or are reckless or violate rules then it is time to find a new friend. This sort of activity will, ultimately, cause you harm. Stop this kind of relationship as soon as possible. There are so many positive and fun things to do with friends that there is no reason to engage in harmful behavior. Have fun and be happy. Be positive and kind. Uplift and affirm. Share and serve.
When my children were young I reminded them that I would know them by their friends. I knew a teacher who used to tell her students, "Show me your friends and I will show you your future." Your children are, as we all are, highly influenced by their choice of friends. Help them make good friends by giving them clear criteria about what a good friend is like. Gently guide them with open ended questions. A hands off approach or a very aggressive approach are equally risky. Be involved in this aspect of your children's lives because it is important. For you and for them.