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Nurturing Your Child's Friendships
We've been talking over the last few days about how to make sure that children adopt the family's values, and spend enough family time with their parents. But we all know that parents are not the only important influence in a child's life (if we were, parenting would be a lot easier). Friends play a huge role, too, especially as kids get older.

So I believe a big job of parenting is helping kids find and keep good friends. In effect, we should act as quasi-matchmakers (I think matchmaking has gotten a bad rap. I think I'd be extremely capable of choosing my girls' husbands. Just wish they'd agree :) ).

That's easy when kids are little. Find families who have similar value systems from you and invite them over for dinner. Have their kids over to play. Kids tend to play with the children of our own friends, because that's who tends to be at our house. When children are small, they can't play with anyone else, except perhaps neighbours. So invite families that are strong with good value systems over. (And this includes the children of single parents, by the way. I was the child of a single mother, and I was at times shunned because of that. But I was a really good kid. Trust me. So if there's a single mother in your church who is doing a good job, and she has some kids who could use a play date, target them first. Chances are that mom needs a break!).

I once lived on a street with lots of great families and lots of kids. Some of them were solid kids; some of them were questionable. But my kids played with them all. The main thing was that they played at our house, not at the homes of the kids who were questionable. And over the course of a number of years, I think we had a good impact on those kids who were struggling. So reach out to those kids, but keep them close. Monitor their games (I remember when one girl wanted my 6-year-old to play "Spice Girls" and learn how to dance sexy. I put a quick stop to that one). Get to know them. Teach them to share and to problem solve.

Nevertheless, you need those really close few friends that your kids really bond with. Kids tend to do that--they'll have ten kids they regularly play with (because kids love playing with others)--and then only two or three that are their best friends. It's those two or three you want to identify and make sure they have good value systems, or are at least willing to live under yours.

I really believe the best place to find these kids is in a church. It doesn't even have to be your church, if you don't have a lot of kids. Go to a lot of city-wide events and get to know other Christian parents in your area. Socialize as much as possible, and you will find people. It means being willing to open up your home and have people over for dinner. It means being willing to go out to some of these events as a family. But the great thing about finding friends for your kids is that chances are you find friends for yourselves, too!

Then, as kids get older, the key is youth groups. You need a youth group where kids can explore their faith, feel safe, and negotiate leaving the nest a bit. My kids have been in two different youth groups at two different churches, and let me tell you, not all youth groups are a good influence.

They've been in one where it was just so large you got lost in the crowd. It was so focused on outreach (which is a good thing) that there wasn't solid teaching for the kids who did believe (which is a bad thing). The culture of the group was so "seeker oriented" that those who were new or who were exploring the faith often set the tone for what was acceptable behaviour. The end result is that the girls spent their lives talking fashion magazines and celebrity culture and make-up--in grade 7! I fail to see how this is much different from school.

At the other youth group it's only about twenty kids. Every kid knows each other. They hang out together. They have debates on whether it's okay to date before you're 18, or whether there's a purpose to dating if you're not going ot marry the person. When they find out that one kid is smoking, they all collectively do an intervention. They're there for each other. The kids are not all perfect, not by a long shot. Many are from difficult family situations. But the atmosphere is different.

Find a youth group for your teen where they connect and feel comfortable in a good way (if they feel comfortable talking about fashion magazines and how much of a pain mothers are, that's not good). Talk to other parents. Ask what their children get out of youth group. If nothing spiritual is brought up, that's likely a bad sign.

Sometimes you may have to go to a youth group at a church other than yours. I think that's okay, and many kids, especially at the junior high age, are more than willing to try something else, especially if they have one friend who is going. So it's not always a bad idea to try a number of youth groups until you find a good fit.

Now let me rant for a minute (as if I haven't been doing so already) and tell you why I believe that kids fall away from the church as they leave for university, and why this youth group thing is so important.

Christian teens need to have their faith strong enough that they believe that their best friends must be Christians. They must have the experience of Christian friendship over their teen years that they will want to recreate it. Their first allegiance must be to some Christian friends, which is why it is so important that you work on cultivating those friendships.

Otherwise they will go away to college, or move away to work, and they will not seek out a campus Christian group or a good church. When kids feel that their friends must be Christian, they will gravitate towards Christian groups because they need friends. The first thing I did on arriving at Queen's University was to find Queen's Christian Fellowship, within a day of getting on campus. There I met my husband and friends I still have today. Of course I had other friends in my university days. But I knew I would only find kindred spirits at the Christian group, so I went out of my way to connect there.

If kids have as their primary kindred spirits kids who don't believe, then it's highly unlikely they will make a big effort to find a church or fellowship. They're used to existing socially without it. They may love God, but they figure that they can go to church when they visit home. They don't have to keep it up. So they don't, and they fall away.

If you want your kids to continue in the faith, make sure their deepest friendships, as teens, are with other Christians. Encourage those friendships. Seek out good youth groups. Change churches if you have to. If your child identifies too much with school or with peer groups that aren't Christian, then chances are they won't seek out a church later. I have seen so many of my dearest friends and relatives go that route, and it's heartbreaking. They believed as a teen, but they didn't stay because they didn't need the social circle.

So matchmake for your kids. Get them good friends. And keep your kids loving God.

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10 Comments:

At 9:05 AM , Anonymous Melinda said…

Well said! I agree totally with the youth group observations! I have 3 teens and am so thankful for a youth group that stresses discipleship!

 

At 12:13 PM , Blogger Sheri said…

1. My computer keeps telling me that your site has malware on it.

2. I think youth group is VERY important and having Christian friends is very important.

3. I believe there is an inherent danger to keeping kids sheltered in a strictly Christian environment (I am not saying you were suggesting that) rather than teaching them how to approach a non-Chistian environment.

4. I was raised a Christian and I will tell you straight up, my Non-Christian friends were much better influences on me than my Christian friends. In fact, I pulled away from my Christian friends because they were always up to no good!

5. Finally. LOL. I always get a little frustrated with statements like this because I fell madly in love with and married someone who not only didn't know God, but didn't really know anything about Him. someone who was so incredibly kind and loving, but who was seeking guidance (at 22 years old). If I had walked away or turned my back or spouted out verses at him where would he be today? I was honored to watch him develop into a Christian. I was blessed to sit next to him the day he was saved. He tells me daily that I saved him. I laugh and say 'Oh no baby, GOD saved you!'

I was far from perfect, I wasn't even going to church at that time, but God was always first in my heart and mind. Sometimes I think that God probably took me away from church at that time so I could see Mike and focus on him.

God has mysterious ways.

 

At 12:28 PM , Blogger Sheila said…

Hi ladies! Glad to see you!

I have no idea what that malware sign is. I haven't added anything new, and I swear I don't have anything nefarious here. If anyone has any insights, please let me know!

Sheri, I agree that we don't want to shelter friends, and I wasn't trying to suggest that. What I do believe is that our kids closest and primary friends should share the faith, and I do think that's biblical. We should all have other friends (and we have a steady stream of such people coming in and out of my house for dinner, etc.), but everybody needs kindred spirits that are Christian.

I guess what I would say to your point 4 is similar to what I said about the youth groups. If your child is in a youth group with Christian friends who aren't acting Christian, then find other Christian friends. I have had family members in that same situation, and they turned to their non-Christian friends who were really, really great kids. But the end result is that my family members, who were raised in very Christian homes, stopped identifying with being a Christian and simply identified with being a "good person", because their friends were all good. And now they've left the faith.

We need a strong peer group that is Christian. All of us do. We need it for accountability and growth. And while it worked out well for you with your husband, and God certainly uses such things, I think they're the exception. For instance, I have known many more girls who fell in love with men who weren't Christians who today aren't Christian themselves than I know girls who have fallen in love with men who aren't Christian but have then been able to lead those men to Christ. Can it happen? Of course. Is it common? Not really.

That's why we need to be plugged in to a good body of believers, and if the Christians around your kids aren't a good body, get a new one!

And I would never have advised you to walk away from him or to spout verses at him, either. I just would have advised you to keep Christian friends closer. That's all. We need to be in the world. We need non-Christian friends. But our primary friendships must be with Christians, I really do believe that, especially when you're young.

The statistics for how many kids stay in the faith are abysmal. And it's peer groups that take them away. So that's where we need to concentrate, I think!

 

At 1:06 PM , Anonymous Amy F said…

When we move to a new town, the first thing I look for is the kids programs at church. I like for them to have that foundation. We have two children in youth group this year and it very important to us to have peers that help keep them focused. Our youth Group also invites the kids around the community. And my kids welcome them in and have this attitude of, "you must invite the unchurched in!How will they get to know Christ Otherwise?". Thank you for this article- I plan on sharing with other.

 

At 1:28 PM , Blogger Sheri said…

Oh dear, I hope you don't think I was being argumentative! I promise, I wasn't. I think I just had such bad experiences with the "Christian teens" was around that I have a very different POV. Because of how I was raised I was able to maintain my beliefs and have a sound footing.

Now...for the admission part. I DID stray from church for a few years. That wasn't due to my friendships though, it was due to church splits. I always had God close to my heart, but church was pretty far away. To this day that has formed my opinions and I am very leery in churches.

Phew. That said. Our church just hired a brand new youth pastor and he's AWESOME! And I can see how that great program is what keeps the kids wanting to come back. The kids can't wait to get there on Wednesday nights and my daughters best friend begs to go with them. I wish they would do something to make church more exciting for adults. LOL I definitely get more out of lessons aimed toward teens than I do for lessons aimed toward adults, which assume I know everything, and I don't. (Shhh...don't tell my kids!)

 

At 1:43 PM , Blogger Sheila said…

Sheri--

Oh, my goodness, no worries at all! I didn't think you were being argumentative. I hope you didn't think I was, either!

I think in my post I probably didn't stress enough that I do think it's important to still have friends who aren't Christian (in our lives it's mega-family, too). But my point was about the bosom friends!

I would LOVE to pick your brains sometime about the effects of church splits on kids. We have left a church before it got that bad because I didn't want my children to go through that. And I have a friend that I've been trying to tell to leave soon, too, for the same reason. I think church splits can be very damaging to the kids left behind.

 

At 4:32 PM , Anonymous Robin said…

Thank you for your insight Sheila.

My oldest had a great youth group until we moved away from that area. The church we are in now is quite small in the youth area.

My youngest is only 9. Many of our friends left this church for bigger churches with bigger youth programs.

I have been praying for some clarification on this issue. I know the benefits of a youth group with a leader that truly leads the kids spiritually, but often, the churches with dynamic youth programs are too big.

I believe the Lord used your article to provide the help I needed.

 

At 9:31 AM , Blogger Bobble said…

Just a short comment: People who go to church are not necessarily Christians. Teens that act like believers, go to church, lead in the youth group and have never been born again are not Christians. I just hope that people aren't assuming that everyone in church is a believer.

 

At 11:45 AM , Blogger Sheila said…

Bobble--

Absolutely! You're right. That's why I think parents need to be proactive with their kids' friends. Get to know them. Don't assume that the youth group or the children's program at church will take care of everything. You really don't know. So seek out the kids where you can see God working, and nurture those friendships!

 

At 11:46 AM , Blogger Sheri said…

Good point Bobble. I suppose you said in one sentence what I tried to say in 14 or so. LOL

Sheila: I didn't think you were being argumentative either. (Glad we got that straightened out)

 
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About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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