By Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC
School has already begun for some children, while for others school won’t start for a few more weeks. Perhaps over the summer, your child got together with their friends on Facebook instead of face-to-face. Your child may have 1000 Facebook friends, but no real friends.
But with the new school year, your child will need some friends to talk to, spend time with, share sleepovers and growing-up drama.
You may feel at a loss as to helping your child. You don’t want to be that helicopter over-protective parent, yet you doubt your child’s ability to make face-to-face friends. The more they engage on Facebook or other social media outlets, the more awkward they become with face-to-face friends. It isn’t healthy for your child to have only virtual friends. They don’t live in a virtual world. They have to go to a real school, get a real job and interact with real people. Your child is at a disadvantage if they don’t know how to interact and make friendships.
How can you help and support your kids to find friends without hovering or getting in their way of making friends on their own?
Here are suggestions for parents who don’t want to hinder or hover, but do want their child to have lasting friendships.
1. Have reasonable expectations about your child’s social skills. As school begins, encourage them to invite one or two kids over for pizza.
2. Make it a point to meet the parents of your child’s friends.
3. Encourage friendships over popularity. Discouraging kids from manipulative friends is one thing, but insisting they only make friends with the popular kids sends the wrong message.
4. Best friends share interests. If your child has a friend who shares their interests, suggest an outing they could invite a friend to attend.
5. Only get involved in a friendship dilemma if your child asks for help.
6. Separate your friendship needs from your child’s, and don’t assume they feel as you would.
7. If your child is a loner and seems depressed, don’t hesitate to get professional guidance. Loners are more likely to get bullied and feel misunderstood. Their self-esteem is fragile and that is one of the reasons kids need friends. They build each other up and help each other feel good about themselves.
Friendships are important for kids because they help the child feel supported and good about themselves. Social media is a wonderful way to connect with long-distance friends, but virtual friends cannot replace the face-to-face communication friends share. Activities kids do with their friends is important in establishing a strong foundation of what healthy relationships look and feel like. Your self-esteem, confidence and attitude toward adult friends are established in childhood. Parents should encourage their children’s friendships without directing them.
– Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC, is a licensed psychotherapist and co-author with Janine J. Sherman, of Start Talking: A Girl’s Guide for You and Your Mom About Health, Sex or Whatever. Read more about the book at StartTalkingBook.com and more about Rapini at maryjorapini.com.