My kids are 9 and 7, boy and girl, respectively. They're nice, spunky, forgiving, and open-minded. They're hardly perfect; they're also sassy, sarcastic, and demanding.
Because of their willingness to play almost any game with anyone, we know a lot of people. Unfortunately, there are a few kids with moderate behavioral problems--and perhaps a conscious or unconscious ability to manipulate--who like spending time with them.
When I say "bad kids," I mean disrespectful to adults in general especially a parent, conduct issues such as petty theft or aggression, emotional disinhibition such as tantrums over minor issues, entitlement issues such as we have it better than them, and a general lack of age-appropriate empathy.
I want my kids to make good choices about peers, and we talk about how easy it is to do "bad things" when you see other kids doing them. The worst culprit, I gave my kids the choice, and they agreed to not be friends with this boy. He was violent with my kids.
But there are two others that fall just short of violent aggression. My concerns are
Where there's smoke, there's fire. A child with serious problems on the periphery is probably worse when you really get to know him
Peer pressure. At 9 And 7 I'm not too worried about sex and drugs, and in the long run my kids will have to make their own good decisions by high school--there is still a lot of trouble preadolescents can get into.
Scapegoat. Bad kids love to spread the blame to make themselves look less bad. This manipulative approach can cause emotional harm in and of itself.
Risk of physical harm. Bad kids are far more likely to freak out and cause physical harm over a mild slight.
I don't want to frustrate my kids, but I'm struggling between guidance and restriction. Should I actively tell them "Johnny can't be your friend"? And if that's the case, do I passively ignore requests for play dates, or do I lay it out to the child's parents?