Today is Hug a Friend Day. If you have school-aged children that aren’t pupils of a school that has banned hugging, your children might hug their friends every day. How often do you hug your friends?
The hugging itself isn’t the most important thing, obviously, but the act of treating our friendships and our children’s friendships with value and respect are important.
Parents and teachers worry a lot about peer pressure, and with good reason. Around middle school, our children tend to view what their friends think with more and more value, and we want those friendships to be “good influences.” Still, any parent who has referred to another child as an “influence,” good or bad, has most likely been met with an eye roll from their own child.
Children don’t choose friends on their capabilities as a role model, but on their friendliness, their affinity for mutual activities, their ability to relate to each other. They choose their friendships the same way we do: we tend to bond with those that we work with or live near or tend to get to know weekend after weekend, sitting in the bleachers together at their children’s softball games. Telling a child to make “other friends” might sound impossible to a child that spends every social moment of their day already grouped with others without their choosing. Needless to say, trying to push another child into becoming your child’s best friend will most likely backfire and your child might want to quit school. It happened to my friend.
Having a 16-year-old daughter means that there is constant drama in my daughter’s social life. They’re close, they get mad, and then they’re close again. I actually feel grateful that my daughter still shares with me the daily soap opera that is a middle schooler’s life, but I admit, it can be trying to hear yet again how horrible so-and-so might be, knowing that tomorrow, they’ll be great friends again.
Still, just as our children are multi-faceted, so are their friends. We may question why our child would still want to be friends with someone who was so mean to them yesterday, but we don’t see how that same person might be there for our own child more often than not. (I’m not talking about bullying here, an entirely different subject, but the intended or unintended insults, the opinions on their fashion, the thoughtless remark.) As parents, we become Mama Bears, wanting to protect our child from anyone that has made our child cry, but we also forgive our own children on a regular basis for making their mistakes. Part of maturing is being able to forgive, and that’s a quality we should want in our own children.
If we really want to help our children choose their friends wisely, the best we can do is be a sounding board to let them figure out if a friendship is really worth it. We need to be open enough to give them a chance to explain what makes this friendship so special. Our children may be bonding with others on issues we weren’t even aware they had.
What I’ve gained from allowing my children to be open about their friendships, from letting them know that their friendship issues are just as important to me as their educational ones, is finding out just what they talk about. My 12-year-old has talked with her friends about drugs, sex, dating and money already. So far, I’m proud to say, the majority of my daughter’s friends are making the right choices. Still, I might not know that if I judged her friends solely on the times they’ve upset my daughter.
Maybe we should hug our children’s friends today; thank them for making our child laugh, feel special, and hugging our children when they need it.