Ultimately, our children will gravitate to certain friends over others and choose their own peers. It can be very disconcerting to see our child hanging around with the “wrong” friends. The question is what we can do about it and what ideas and perspectives can be helpful for us as parents.
The first thing I would say is that if our child is in a friendship that we currently have no control over, then we are far better off not making negative comments about that friend. This does not mean that we may never calmly express our concerns and discuss the issue with our child, but once that is done, flippant comments made out of anger or frustration like, “You are hanging out with Shloimy again? I can’t stand that kid,” will only do harm. Why? Because your son apparently likes Shloimy and sees him as a good person, and by insulting him, you will cause your son to have feelings of resentment towards you.
I also believe that when we utter such comments, we become bad role models of ahavas Yisroel. Once the friendship is sealed and we can’t separate them, we have a full-blown mitzvah to love and respect the friend. By showing grace, warmth and respect to your son’s friend despite your obvious hesitations, your son will take note of your middos and that will help further encourage him to become a better person.
This is a general pet peeve of mine. When people knock others who are seemingly less religious than they are in order to protect their children from them, they are not doing their children any favors. Rather, such comments exhibit bad middos and sinas chinom, which our children should not be exposed to. Rather, when necessary, we should explain to our children that while we don’t judge others and they certainly have many wonderful qualities that even we don’t have, in certain areas we may not act like them. If we feel proud and fortunate about our loyalty to the Torah, we really don’t need to belittle others to raise ourselves.
It is far better for your child to spend time around your house than to always be going out to others, where they are not under your supervision. If your child’s close friend feels that he is disliked by you, chances are that the two of them will not be around your house very much.
When a parent calls me to express concern about his son’s friend, I convey the above, but there is another idea I share. While today it seems that your son is being brought down by his peer (of course, understand that his parents may feel that the opposite is true), who knows what will be a few weeks or months from now? I have seen many “bad” friends who ended up turning things around and saving those who were initially a little better off.
When there is really nothing we can do to change things, we have to believe in and accept Hashgachah Protis. We should daven to Hashem for our child and his friend to grow in their Yiddishkeit, accepting that there is a master plan to the friendship that has developed. There may very well be a blessing in disguise that we can’t understand right now.
If there is a way for the parents to step in and break up a friendship, which is rarely the case, then I would advise seeking an experienced mechanech’s advice. On one hand, it alleviates the immediate problem of the friend’s influence, but, on the other hand, it may have repercussions that will be far more detrimental in the long run. There are so many variables to consider, including the age of the children, the type of friend you are dealing with, and other details, and even then only a novi can say with certainty what the proper approach would be. A mechanech will only be able to advise what he sees as the wiser and safer path. In some cases, switching school or camps can be a viable option to consider, serving as a more indirect way of rerouting your child’s social life.
I wish to add one more important point to this discussion: Many times, I have seen parents who are unaware of their own child’s shortcomings. Thus, they see the danger presented by the friend, yet they fail to realize that their own child – at this point – is no angel either. Of course there are exceptions, but, very often, children are attracted to the friends they feel are on the same page as they are. While their friend may look worse externally because of his dress or hairstyle, they may both be pretty much in the same boat, sharing the same struggles.
If your child is not hanging out with the right crowd, simply pointing your finger at his friends is an irresponsible response. It is always easier to shift the blame. We need to look deeper into our child’s situation and examine his emotions. Even if all his “bad” friends were removed, he might struggle as much as he is now, just alone, for better or for worse.
We need to get to know our children better. If we are fortunate enough to be counted among our children’s close friends, we have a far better chance of effectively directing and guiding them, sharing with them the beauty of Torah and Yiddishkeit.
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Rabbi Kestenbaum offers private chinuch counseling, guiding parents and children towards stronger relationships. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rabbi Kestenbaum’s most recent book, “The Heart of Parenting,” published by Targum Press, is available at all Judaica stores. He is the author of the seforim “Olam Hamiddos,” “Olam Ha’avodah” and “Run After the Right Kavod.”
Chinuch shiurim and past articles our available at heartofparenting.com.