Building Relationships We Can All Be Proud Of

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

DEALING WITH PEER INFLUENCE AMONG KIDS



 Many parents worry when they think of the influence that is likely to be exerted on their children by their peers. These worries are genuine and every parent should have them. As a matter of fact for a parent to worry about the safety of their children outside of home is a first step towards accepting the fact that the open world has everything - good or bad - to offer children.

This acknowledgement should push parents into finding solutions to these fears. It is rather unfortunate that most parents, though they acknowledge these problems, do not end up with solutions to them.

  Children are easily influenced and it is of great import for parents intending to raise proper children to take a “little time out of their busy schedule” to ensure that their children are always keeping the proper company. 

Children make friends with their others of their age range. Within this level friendship there is an intensive interaction which, if parental control is lapsed, can replace the appropriate training the child needs.

At tender ages when children meet, they make and unmake many decisions. One kid with a proper training will spell out the rules and regulations that govern his home only for another kid with a bad grooming to give a counter argument. They give reasons why it is not always necessary to follow laid down rules and regulation and how it is easy to get away with it. With the natural adventure that lurks in every child, and without much thought about the consequences, they suddenly find that being a rule breaker might be interesting.

As a parent, the degree of this influence on the child and how it impinges on your efforts at giving the child a proper training depends on many things including the age of the child, the number of friends they have and the percentage of these kids who are from good home – remember it is not practically possible for your kid to always walk with ‘saintly kids’. If your kid is predominantly keeping the company of  kids from good homes, there is a possibility they are going to be positively influenced the reverse is also true that predominantly bad company keeping will have a corrupting effect on the child.

The age of the child as mentioned earlier and their self esteem can also inform the degree of influence that is likely to be exerted on them by their peers. Children who move with older friends are likely to imitation the behaviors of their older friends whether it is bad of good. The self esteem of a child also has an important effect on the child as they relate with others. Children with poor impression about themselves are more vulnerable to peer influence whether good or bad.

But the crust of the case is that every parent wants to be sure their children are safe and are really growing up in a proper and acceptable way both in the family standards and in the social expectations. The unfortunate thing, however, is that they do little to help things go the way they expect.

But there is hope! That is parents cannot be totally helpless as far as their children’s upbringings are concerned. There are safeguards every parent can put in place to ensure that their children are keeping the right company.

PROVISION

The first step for every parent to take to ensure that they know at any point in time who their children are with and what they are doing, is to make provisions for them in the house. Provisions are to be made for learning, for playing, for free expression among others.

Whenever children go out of their home, it is for two basic reasons: either to play or learn with friends. If any one of these two or both apply to your child, provide that environment home. But that is not an end in its self; encourage them to bring their friends home. That will be the starting point in what I call sifting through. If your children go out to learn at their friend’s home, provide that same conducive environment home. It can be a standard study or it can be a writing board mounted somewhere on the porch. But wherever it is it has to be where you can keep an eye on them.

If they go out to play you can bring that experience home.

I did not grow up with sophisticated toys, but my house was certainly the centre of all the games and things that made kids happy: picture books, work books; they were all there. Their was this small pitch in front of the house opposite – it was a guest house for Ghana Standards Boards at Anaji Estates in Takoradi. It was our football pitch until Christmas – then it became the site for our Christmas palm fronds tent. But be sure I owned the football.  The street in front of our house was not a busy one so we made it busy by running self-made wooden sit-in cart and tin toy cars.

Then there were our three dogs: Percy – mummy, Cyborg – the castrated first born and Billy - the castrated user-unfriendly one. I made it a point to dress them occasionally with my old clothes, and they loved it. And they even loved it more to see all the kids in the area running after them wherever they went. You should Percy wiggling her tail and forgetting that she is a dog and has to be fearsome.

At Christmas time we made cannons from bamboo trunks and carbide, and guns from exhaust pipes and matches.

All the games took place in my house.


LET YOUR HOME BE WELCOMING!

Since children don’t usually play alone but in the company of others, encourage your children to bring their friends homes even if such visits come with some inconveniences.

In the event that your child’s friends are refusing to come home with them, it could be one of these reasons;
  • Your house is not welcoming enough – the general set up or your personality as a parent. If your children are scared of you or not comfortable around you, be sure they will even encourage their friends to stay away from their house. 
  • Again the absence of proper infrastructure for playing or learning will definitely push your children’s friends from your home. What are they coming to do there!
  •  It could also be that they are also of equally good homes where their parents also expect their friends to come home to visit.
  • It could also be that your children are moving with friends who are straight up a bad influence who cannot have their way in your house therefore choose to stay outside. These types of friends are always sure to be where they are comfortably out of reach of all authority.
However because you must know who your child is with it is important for you as a parent to find out why these kids are not coming to your house. If it is your personality that is keeping them out, then it is time you make some concessions and changes for the sake of your child. You cannot hold on to what is inimical to the development of your child and yet expect to have the best of that child.

Knowing your child’s friends is pivotal to establishing the root causes of certain behavior or predicting future behavior and therefore taking effective measures to handling them.

You will have to change for the sake of your child; your personality should be approachable enough for your children to be comfortable with you and go on to bring their friends home. 

Parents should keep it in mind that the worst or best of their children are noticed when they are in the midst of their peers. And since the only way to see this is when they are with their friends, encourage them to bring them home...otherwise you would have to do the opposite – go with them to their friend’s house…to play with them!!

If it has to do with the proper infrastructure for effective learning or play toys, then parents should try to make a few available for the child’s use. It need not be expensive learning or playing gadgets; improvising on the part of the parents will do as long as there is something to play or learn with, good enough to make a kid stay home and bring in their friends as well.

If it is a learning space, you have to improvise: a corner of your living room or your porch can be converted into a study for your kids; do it!!! That is one of the price you have to pay today for a certain future that will come.

It could also be that your child’s friend is of equally good home where their parents want to meet friends of their children. If you have such assurance, then it is ok to let your child venture into such homes, but on two conditions: firstly, you as a parent should make an effort at meeting the parents of these children – it is the only way you can be sure your children are going to be in a good home. Secondly you have to let such visit be tagged with expiry date unless it is reciprocated, so that it becomes a family-to-family thing in the long term.

Then we also have a generation of children who have effectively asked permission, and have been granted, off all forms of authority. These are either from homes where parents are overly permissive and indulging or homes where state of parenthood is non-existing. These will definitely have problems coming to your house where they know they will be under watchful eyes. They would rather want their friends to come to them so they can continue living in the kind of world they have.

That definitely makes the work even easier. Just restrain your children from moving along with such friends. But I must say it will not be easy to just tell your kid not to play with A or B; you will have to give them good reasons in an open well thought out discussions and be frank and candid about it because force or deceit seldom works.  If your effort at this is not yielding much response it is better to tell this particular friend of your child how uncomfortable you are with them around your children. Be polite but firm in this way. You might end up having to see the parents of this child to inform them of your decision and they should let their child stay away from your children.

Most often it happens that some parents might not be aware of how bad their children have become or are perceived out side and maybe your complaints might help in getting this particular child brought in line. But again don’t expect much; a crab can never reproduce a bird. You might end up reporting a misbehaving child to a hostile parent.

SHOW INTEREST IN YOUR CHILDREN’S FRIENDS

Do you have friends of your children who you know like you? Show special affection towards you? Visit and stay even if you kids are not around? You need to get to that level of openness!

Whenever these children come home, do not treat them passively; food-on-the-table and drink-in-the-fridge attitude is not enough. Be interest in know knowing what happened at school, the subject of their arguments, why they are suddenly quiet on the porch, why does it appear as if, without any verbal communication, some of the kids are manipulated by others. You will learn a lot.

Keep one ear on what they talk about without making it obvious, no matter how busy you are, once you are in the house occasional pop-ins will suffice.

When boys gather to play or learn, they end up “over learning” or “over playing”. If they are of the same age, they could be experimenting on just about anything from molding paper planes to playing computer games to playing with their genitals. Where there are considering age differences, there could be some form of coaching or experimenting going on somehow. Coaching could be in overt or covert forms in the areas of stealing, lying or even fighting.

The case is not so different amongst girls though the physical activities are minimal as opposed to attitudinal exchanges.

Parents should be wary of any kind of interaction between children of the opposite sex regardless of their age difference. Grown up boys can introduce sex to much younger girls while the opposite is also very true.

A colleague of mine told me of a girl in his 4-year old girl’s class. This girl was a bit older than the class average and usually played with the penis of another boy in the class.  One day while talking about what happened at school my colleague's little girl mentioned that the older girl in the class, whom my colleague knew, played with the “kakai” (a kid’s name for the sex organ in the Fante language- it is also a term for apparition or anything scary) of another boy in the class whom my colleague also knew – evidence of parental involvement. The shocked father asked the girl what was kakai and the girl pointed to her groin! My friend obviously had to go to the authorities of the school.

Whenever these friends come home create the environment where they can say, “Let’s ask Daddy George or Auntie Mensima if I am not the one whose is right.” Let mummy be mummy and daddy be daddy to your children’s friends. Help them bring their arguments and puzzles to you for solution; seize the opportunity to teach; build a confidence in them that will make your word faithful and your opinion the acceptable and final option.

BE A TEACHER AND LEARNER

When your children or their friends come to you for answers, as much as you can, help them and in the best way you can with all pleasure. It is only when you are willing to listen to them that you will really know how children think; what their perceptions of the world around them are how they are experiencing it. This will help you determine the chaff in them as well as the wheat. And when you know this, you don’t have to learn it in the hard or the embarrassing way.   

It is the only time you can authoritatively teach them what is right or wrong. They came to you so you taught them. It always work better than when you follow them around with lessons. When children are taught something and they accept it in the presence of others, it becomes very difficult to change.

Through this occasional interactions you will learn your children’s and their friend’s preferences, temperaments, emotional inclinations, intelligent levels among others. This will, to a large extent, tell you what they are learning at school, from friends, and even from the homes where they come from (in case of your children’s friends.)

These revelations will aid to constructively, in the case of your children, and subtly, the case of their friends, offer feed-backs and reinforcements to them. You encourage positive behaviors and discourage negative ones.

In a family of one-child this is very important much as families where the age gap between the kids are so wide to encourage specific interactions. Parents will definitely rely on the peers of their children to learn much about them.

TAKING THE FINAL DECISION

After a considerable period of time, you can really tell each of these friends easily. That is when you will have to tell which kid can continue to be entertained in your house or indeed as friend to your child.

It will not be easy again to split good friends and as a parent you will need utmost tact to accomplish this. you just can’t throw out a kid you have entertained for a while. For this very reason, your ultimate goal in knowing these children is to train your child properly and affect positively their friends. If after a while you can prove unruliness on the part of any child then you would have to make that ultimate decision which will be difficult but possible.

Even in this situation it is always prudent to talk to the parents of these children; they could be angels at home and demons outside and such information to their parents will be a welcoming one for the child’s own good. It can also set their parents on the path of reform which will eventually transform their homes and eventually their children.



~PG Sebastian~
2005. All Rights Reserved.