Friend Proofing can save more than your child's reputation

Friend Proofing is much like street proofing in that both are preventative measures designed to keep your child out of harm's way. In this case, a so-called buddy that wants to steer your son or daughter in the wrong direction.

"Kids will be kids" is easy to fall back on, but that is simply an excuse for those parents who don't take the time to guide their children adequately. It's basically in everyone to cross over to the "dark side" from time to time. It's only natural, and the curiosity of youth plays right into that as well. However, it's not enough to tell a child to "be careful", or to "stay out of trouble". These phrases carry little weight and even less meaning.

For children to take care or not become troublemakers, they have to have some idea of what the risks are, otherwise you're blowing hot air. With friend proofing, you are first talking to your child, walking through scenarios, and describing possible outcomes. Of course you have to pick your moment. You can't do this when your child is running out to play. In the old days, parents used to say "if your friends jumped off a bridge, would you jump to?" It was somewhat effective but also limiting. The scenario was too far fetched to apply to 99% of kids. That poor 1% may be in the hospital now, or worse.

Choose scenarios that are in tune with the age group, surroundings and your experience. Never believe that your child is too young for such things. You will be wrong. Get ahead of the curve... you want to intercept an activity the first time. Appeal to their sense of image and family, keeping their self-respect, keeping your respect, attracting friends that will last, caring for their possessions, their surroundings and your property.

Once you have discussed some scenarios that may apply, like being encouraged to break curfew, to lie, to steal, to vandalize, to swear, to smoke, whatever they might be, then establish the hot button for your child. "If you hear your friends ask you to do ????, stop and remember what we talked about". "Remember how you would feel and how we would feel if you followed along." Set up this buffer so they can recognize mischievous activities and think through the outcomes. Give them the tool to develop a good conscience rather than have them take on yours in dribs and drabs, generally after the event.

While you are at it, teach your child to recognize the difference between a friend and an acquaintance. That a friendship has invisible bonds of trust and support, but an acquaintance is someone he or she knows, and although not less of a person, it makes no sense that this individual should have such impact on your child's life without further investigation.

Also, don't be afraid to introduce yourself to your child's friend's parents. An extension to friend proofing, it is part of your job, and if there is something you don't like about the parents, what might you expect from their child? You need to give your child the tools and words to leave some bad influences behind and to strive for better ones. Think of friend proofing as a way of showing your child how to think independently, fend off peer pressure, and derive pleasure from better, safer activities and acquaintances.

Yes, everyone can learn from their mistakes, but it doesn't mean they have to learn only that way. You don't get a chance to pack your parachute properly, next time!

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