Monday, 24 February 2014

Can I Choose My Child’s Friends?

Can I choose my child’s friends? I would certainly like to. Particularly the six-year-old’s. He is a boy, and a boisterous one, and he is drawn to kids with similar personalities – who like fighting, wrestling, rough-housing. Now, I am not misguided enough to think his friends are leading him astray – they aren’t leading him at all, they are simply fellow-travellers along his chosen path of mayhem – but they are definitely Not A Good Influence, in that they encourage his already-pronounced tendency to get himself into trouble at school.

I wish he would hang out more with the thoughtful, quiet ones. It’s not that he isn’t interested in books, and animals, and history, just markedly less so than in pretending to be a superhero fighting a dastardly super-villain and aiming a series of precise killer blows. When these quiet, thoughtful boys do come on play-dates, I am charmed to see how long my son can sit with an atlas, locating the countries through which the Amazon passes, or making complicated Lego structures. ‘See,’ I think smugly, ‘he’s really very intelligent and sensitive. He just needs the right peer group to develop that side of him.’

The pity is, when offered a choice between the ‘right’ peer group and the wrong one, there is no contest in his mind. He would merrily knock the nice kids out of his way to get to the raucous ones and raise a bit of kiddie hell. So, given that his inclination does not lie in the direction I think best for him, should I intervene and try to reshape his path?

Does interfering in this way make me a hopelessly controlling, uptight, Wanna-Be Alpha Mum? And if so, how much does this matter?

Perhaps I should just make peace with it? After all, I pretty much control what he eats (at least I try, unashamedly), what he watches (again, I try. There are always a few episodes of the Simpsons that sneak through and provoke awkward questions – ‘what’s sex and why are Marge and Homer having it?’), even what he wears, in that I buy the clothes, even if I don’t dictate what combinations he chooses. So, maybe its time to stop agonising over his freedom of choice, and simply promote the matches I approve of, and freeze the ones I don’t?

There are mothers who do this, blatantly. One of them even said to me recently, as we walked back from dropping our boys to their class, ‘X (her son) wants me to invite Y (cheerfully aggressive kid, very popular with his classmates, box office poison with mums) over, but I’m not going to, because I think he’s a terrible influence, and every time he comes round, X behaves like a thug for days afterwards.’ At least she was open about it. Other mothers are more subtle – regretfully tied up for any engagement that involves certain children, endlessly free for certain others. They are quite clearly skillfully manipulating their offspring’s friendships, carefully cultivating those they approve of, cauterising those they don’t.

And yes, I have noticed that the pre-selecting sort of mother doesn’t much invite my son around, so I do see the way it works, and the potential it carries for one or two kids to be left right out, if everyone adopts the controlling-mother stance.

And then I think back to my own childhood, and my enduring fascination with the ‘bad’ kids. The ones who were exciting, unpredictable, always in trouble. The ones with whom I got told off, sent to the headmaster’s office, even suspended once. With whom I had my first sneaky cigarette and other rites of childish passage. And I look at them now, and see how upstanding, resolute and impressive they are as adults, and I think – ‘hold back a while, maybe the kids are better judges than we think…’ Blog of the Day Mon 24th Feb


  1. My best friend introduced me to cigarettes before I was a teenager and we did some other pretty unimpressive things subsequently too. As I got that all out of my system, am now an adult model citizen. However, I sympathise as it's not easy having difficult children around as you can see from the bottom of this post:

    1. I love that story! My little sister had a party once, and one boy deliberately picked his nose and put snot all over the birthday cake, before anyone could stop him. My mother had spent ages making it, with organic brown flour and demerara sugar. In the '80s! Although it wasn't half as pretty as yours! My brothers wanted to take him out back and teach him a lesson... we had to intervene, but secretly, I thought they had a point...

  2. This is very insightful, we do this without even noticing, I think! The story you tell of the mother 'selecting' her child's friends is not uncommon. I would do it if I thought I would get away with it! If my willful daughter worked out which ones I was pointedly wanting her to avoid, she would purposefully go all out to make friends!

    1. And who can blame her! I no sooner got wind of my parents disapproving of a certain friend, and that friend became irresistible to me... its the charm of the forbidden. So, if we're going to be any good at the influencing, we're going to have to start using reverse psychology. Its getting complicated!