Wednesday, July 13, 2011

How I Want My Child to Choose Friends

As we saw in the clip from Mean Girls the high school cafeteria is a place where you make a selection of friends as well as food.  Students are often forced to make tough decisions of who they want to sit and identify with.  Do they play the Christ role and eat with the sinners and outcasts, or do they play politician and rub elbows with the powerful students who can increase their popularity?  Well, hopefully there is a middle ground they can find somewhere.  
"Won't you be my friend?"
A gingerbread depiction of what I hope my child is like.
As a parent I would have no control over which group my child chooses to sit with, nor could I really understand exactly what it means for them to be a part of that group.  The high school cliques that my child would have to choose from will probably be nothing like what I remember.  What I could do, however, is work to instill strong values in my child that will help him as a student and in life and prepare him to seek out students with similar values.  If that gets him labeled "nerd" so be it, if he is labeled "jock" -oh well.  I would want my child to dig deeper and find the values of a group that exist beyond the label, music selection or clothing styles.  That may be unrealistic to expect of a teenager, but that does not make this bad advice, just hard advice.

While working to establish churches in the Middle East early Christian tradition holds that the Apostle Paul started mentoring a young disciple named Timothy.  The  tradition surrounding this relationship is encapsulated in the two Timothy Epistles found in the New Testament.  In II Timothy 1 Paul is recorded as saying, "I thank God, whom I serve, as my forefathers did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers...For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline."  While running a youth program in Ventura I had the opportunity to mentor many young people about whom I would pray would receive a spirit of power, love and most especially self-discipline.  It is a prayer I will say for my children should I have any.

On the last session I had with my students I showed them a video of a recreation of Mischel's famous marshmallow experiment (embedded after the paragraph).  I explained to the students that the ability to postpone instant gratification for future benefits was one of the most essential, if not the most essential ability that must be developed early on to live a life that most of us would consider successful.  When Mischel performed a followup to his study he found that the students who could wait until finishing their marshmallow had higher SAT scores, coped with stress better and were considered more dependable by adults.

Bad friends are good kid kryptonite.  I would hope that my child finds friends who have positive qualities that rub off on him more than I care what subculture he belongs to.  I would want my child to be friends with whichever of these kids passed the marshmallow test.


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  2. Hi Matt - I love the assertion that "bad kids are good kid kryptonite." While it isn't always so simple to label kids are good or bad, it is certainly true that the peers a student surrounds themselves with will have immense effects on their decisions. When we presented our gingerbread kids in class, I don't remember hearing "self-discipline" as one of the qualities mentioned and I did not think of it myself. What a wonderful thing to wish for your child, and for the students you worked with in Ventura. It is one of the hardest skills to develop, even as an adult, but if you can model waiting for that second marshmallow to the young people in your life - I think they will notice! And you're right - that the subculture a kid aligns themselves with is much less significant than the character of the friends in his or her life. Thanks for sharing and putting a lot of thought into this post.