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Life Skills: 5 Tips For Helping Your Kids Pick Friends

Navigating relationships is a lifelong process—here’s how you can help your children identify and forge fulfilling friendships.

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#1 Trust Your Children’s Instincts

A study conducted by Yale and the University of California suggested that we gravitate towards people based on genetic similarity. According to the study, which compared gene variations between nearly 2,000 subjects of European descent, good friends have about 1% of their genes in common, which is comparable to the relationship shared by fourth cousins, and therefore, a “significant number” to geneticists.

“Most people don’t even know who their fourth cousins are, yet we are somehow, among a myriad of possibilities, managing to select as friends the people who resemble our kin,” says Nicholas Christakis, a social scientist involved in the study. In other words, friends are the family we choose, without even realising it.

#2 Diversity Is Healthy

“You are the average of the five people around you” is a maxim favoured by some entrepreneurs and self-help proponents—this rule advocates surrounding yourself only with people who possess qualities that you admire and aspire towards. It does not appear to be backed by data, but from a practical perspective, there are merits to having high-achieving, well-connected individuals influence our lives in positive ways. Yet, as psychology writer Keith Hillman points out, this notion of excluding non-performing friends from our inner circle is morally untenable, as it devalues friendships by turning them into transactional alliances.

“Not everything is about getting successful,” he says. “If you can’t even relax with friends without worrying about your self-improvement drive, then you may have lost sight of what’s really important in the first place.” Having a diverse group of friends ensures one is exposed to a cornucopia of ideas and experiences—if we are assessing our children’s friends, we should be looking at their hearts, not their abilities or backgrounds.  

#3 Put Friendships To The Test

If your child comes to you for advice on a friendship’s viability, try this three-question test with him or her, as recommended by Psychology Today: 

  1. Do I feel lighter being with this person?
  2. Do I feel encouraged?
  3. Do I feel valued?

If your child answers “yes” to all three questions, the relationship is likely a healthy one. “No” answers may indicate that the friendship is a strain on your child’s emotional resources, and if it doesn’t improve, a decision may have to be made to cut the negative friend loose.

#4 To Attract Better Friends, Cultivate “Friendship Traits”

Friendship is a two-way street: If your child is having trouble making or retaining friends, perhaps some self-reflection is in order. This Psychology Today article lists 13 traits that it claims are “essential” to friendship; the traits fall into three categories, each representing a facet of relational behaviour—integrity, caring, and congeniality. Go over the list with your child and discuss how he or she can develop the qualities that may be lacking.

#5 Mentors Have Impact

You can’t choose your children’s friends for them, but you can surround them with adult role models. According to a North Carolina State University study, kids with “natural mentors” are more likely to find work they’re passionate about when they grow up. The researchers defined “natural mentoring” as relationships that develop naturally between an individual and an older adult who isn’t a parent, and examples of natural mentors include relatives, teachers, and clergy members. For this study, over 12,000 individuals in their teens and early 20s were surveyed to find out if they had ever had a mentor. Six years later, these individuals were queried again about their jobs.

“We found that overall employment and compensation were about the same,” says Joshua Lambert, a co-author of the study. “But people who had mentors when they were younger had greater intrinsic job rewards.” One reason could be that mentors help promote skills and resources that are beneficial for intrinsically rewarding careers.

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