Disciplining other people’s children is a tough issue.
It takes a village to raise a child, but does that mean we should tell our kids’ friends how to behave? The way we approach this situation can have significant effects on our children, their friends, and our family relationships.
Here are some examples:
Your 15 year-old daughter is hanging out in his bedroom with one of her friends. You are putting away the folding and give a quick tap on the door, open it, and walk in. You see your daughter’s friend frantically trying to stash something that looks like a packet of cigarettes into his bag.
Your 9 year-old son and his friends are laughing in the lounge room when you overhear some heavy coarse language. You’ve always taught your kids to avoid swearing, particularly at other people’s homes. Plus, you have two younger children who are in and out of the house and are likely to hear every word the ‘big’ kids’ are saying.
Your 16 year-old comes home around midnight after a party – and brings a friend. As you walk into the kitchen, you see that friend trying to hide a pre-mixed can she’s been drinking.
You walk into your 11 year-old’s room and see him and his friend staring at the friend’s phone. They look at you with guilt all over their faces before your son’s friend locks his phone and slides it into his pocket.
How do you respond? Do you step in? Do you talk to the child? Do you talk to the parents? Or do you stay quiet?
Many parents hope their children and their children’s friends will want to be at their place. It’s nice to have the kids close. They bring an energy and enthusiasm about life into the home that can be exciting and positive. And it allows us, as parents, to keep an eye on things. From time to time our children’s friends might overstep our boundaries and we have to decide whether we should step in or stay out.
If we step in, will we alienate our child or our child’s friend? Will we merely push unwanted behaviours underground? Will we frighten them off? Will they just go somewhere else and keep doing what we’ve asked them not to – but away from our watchful eye?
If it were your child behaving in a way that went counter to the rules in their friends’ home, would you want the responsible adult/parent to step in? And if so, how? Would you like them to address your child? Or would you prefer that they talk with you about their concern?
Here are four different ways you might handle an awkward situation positively in order to help everyone feel comfortable, follow the rules, and be safe.
1. Be Proactive
Establishing the ground rules from the outset can be a sure-fire way to encourage children of any age to respect the rules at your home. When your child brings someone home to hang out with you might say something like,
“We’re really glad to have you here. We want you to feel at home. But we also want you to be aware of a couple of important rules in our house. We’ve got some younger kids here watching your examples so we ask that you keep your language clean. Also, we expect that no one will be drinking or smoking. Devices stay on the bench by the door, and the bedrooms are off limits.”
Whatever your rules are, share them. It may relate to using devices, or use of the pool, the tv, mobile devices, or whatever is unique to your home. Some children will roll their eyes. But most will comply, making it easy for you to manage things from the outset.
2. Involve the Kids
From time to time someone will break the rules, either by being unaware, by getting carried away, or perhaps because they want to be a bit rebellious. In some instances a quiet word to your child will be enough.
“Your friend is struggling with his language. You know what our rules are – and you know why we have those rules. Would you prefer to talk to your friend, or shall I?”
If it is too awkward for your child to say something, the next alternative is for you to:
3. Have a Quiet Word
If the rules are being clearly flaunted, sometimes you might wish to say something.
As a teen I was approached by a friend’s parent during one of my visits. I had violated one of their house rules unknowingly. This father called me into the kitchen and kindly thanked me for coming to visit. He then clearly explained that I was always welcome to be in his home, but under the condition that I follow some rules. He shared them with me, gave me the benefit of the doubt by acknowledging that I probably didn’t know they had those rules, shook my hand, and led me out to my friend.
My pride was dinted. I was a little shocked. But I valued my friendship with several of his children, and I wanted to do the right thing. He never had problems with me again.
4. Defer to Their Parents
From time to time something might happen that is a big deal. Perhaps you’ve discovered alcohol, cigarettes, or other drugs. Or maybe there has been something inappropriate occur physically or sexually.
In such cases it may be worthwhile explaining what you are aware of, and indicating that you feel obliged to share it with his or her parents.
This is not about being a dibber-dobber. Instead, this is about demonstrating that you care for your child and your child’s friend. It may bring short-term pain. It may impact on the relationship your child has with this friend. It could even affect your relationship with that parent. But sometimes the best people to deal with serious rule infractions are the parents of that child.
Every family has values that differ slightly. This diversity can be challenging for some parents, particularly when their children bring those ‘other values’ into the family home. But with a proactive, or gently reactive approach, most of these challenges can be worked through in a way that preserves relationships and protects what we value most.
What do you do? Are you afraid to step in? Do you tell the parents? Or do you favour letting the kids sort it out?