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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

  1. 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

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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?

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I've seen some research suggesting that the peer group has a stronger influence than the parents on outcomes ranging from drug use and sexual activity to eventual level of education and career choice. Anecdotally, I've seen my own kids pick up disrespectful behaviors from other kids --and regretfully I've also seen them innovate some and pass them along to other people's children.

That suggests to me that one of the biggest impacts a parent can have on a child is indirectly, by influencing the choice of friends.

However, I do also understand the importance of allowing children to make their own decisions. I'm wrestling with this right now myself. My son's favorite friend is someone who my own personal affection for has markedly diminished after he shoved my son repeatedly into a mud puddle. I want to value my son's choice in friends, but I'm just not that eager for them to spend more time together (especially since one of the things he seems to admire about his friend is his bad attitude).

  • I remember when we were 13 my closest friend made a horrible error and lied to get me to do something. My friend and I hashed it out; she admitted and owned her mistake; she profusely apologised and I accepted it because I knew she was being honest. My parents never forgave her and she was no longer welcome in their house. What did that teach me? It said to me that they were inflexible and could not learn. I went behind their backs to see her. She is still one of my close friends and I'm in my 60s. So parents need to be flexible and informed. This is why parents teach decision-making. – WRX Jan 27 '17 at 18:53
  • @WillowRex Your incident is a good anecdote, but one that in general is the exception, not the rule. I would suggest temperance on applying this life experience to other parent's situations which are unique and different, although sharing it is definitely a good point. – Adam Heeg Jan 28 '17 at 2:27
  • @AdamHeeg I added it as a comment and not an answer for that reason. :) – WRX Jan 28 '17 at 3:33
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I think it is far better to give your children the tools they need to resist peer pressure and to make their own good decisions. My problems as a young person were because I was never allowed to make mistakes and was sent to boarding schools or private schools. I reacted by acting out.

Also, when I did make a mistake, I was 'saved'. One example was that I stole a chocolate bar and my mum just said the store owner would not notice. That was very poor parenting. My parents meant well, but were too wrapped up in their own lives to really know what was going on in mine.

I think your kids are already making choices about friends and activities that you do not know about, unless they are home schooled. Most, even the majority -- are decisions you'd agree with.

So, if you truthfully believe that another child is a bad influence and your child cannot learn from them or gain anything from knowing them; do what you did before. Point it out and put your foot down if they won't go along with your parental decision.

I also wonder if these kids that you are unhappy about are as bad as you think. Who is telling you the information? Sometimes kids/people exaggerate to make themselves or their kids look better. On Edit: You know that the kids are not good role models. Could they be used (in conversation with your children) to point out what they are doing that is wrong or a poor choice? "See how the other kids act /what happens when X pushes/swears? That's why we don't want you to do that." If you are supervising the playdates, then this might be a good thing. You can be selective when you cannot be there.

Make your home a safe place to be wrong. Point out your own mistakes. Make consequences fit the action. Make telling the truth okay. Your kids will make tons of mistakes. Mistakes are an important part of growing up.

Of course you need to protect them and of course you do get to say, "No." I would be careful to use reason rather than clout as much as you are able to because 'clout' just says you can, not that you have reason.

Good luck! LINK There are many great books about teaching kids how to make good choices. LINK

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    Thanks, Willow.. Our culture here is for parents to hang around on most play dates--not hovering but around--certainly the 7 year old. I see these behaviors firsthand. – Stu W Jan 27 '17 at 14:48
  • @StuW so you know that the kids are not good role models. Could they be used (in conversation with your children) to point out what they are doing that is wrong or a poor choice? "See how the other kids act /what happens when X pushes/swears? That's why we don't want you to do that." – WRX Jan 27 '17 at 15:35
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    Good point. You may wish to edit your answer to reflect this – Stu W Jan 27 '17 at 16:57

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