We are new to Dubai and my two teenage children are beginning to make friends here. They’ve grown up in a very protected environment as I always worry that they might get in with the wrong crowd, and that this could have a huge impact on their lives. But I am also worried about whether they will be able to make friends easily, and the right friends at that. What can I do to help?
As a parent you’re often required to balance those instinctive feelings of wanting to protect your children from potentially harmful situations with giving them the freedom to develop all of those skills necessary to be a happy and successful adult. It’s no easy task and when you throw teenage friendships into the mix, it can seem like a minefield.
Of course, it’s only natural that you want your children to make friends with those who will enhance their lives rather than steer them in the wrong direction, but as a parent you also have to give your children the skills to make good choices, learn to trust them to use these skills when you’re not there to guide them, and be ready to catch them if they fall. If you interfere too heavily in the initial process of friendship-making, you run the risk of alienating your children at a time when it is vital to keep those lines of communication open.
Studies show that the most popular children are caring; inclusive; display high levels of empathy; have the ability to evaluate situations through moral reasoning; and have strong verbal and interpersonal skills. The foundations of these skills are often laid in early childhood when young children start to grapple with the basics of socialising with others. Even though you say they’ve not socialised freely, it’s likely that many of these skills are embedded, but they just need the chance to practise them. It’s really down to you to evaluate this and fill in the gaps if there are any. There are a few simple strategies you can use to help them feel more confident when mixing with their peers.
Talk to them openly about their emotions in a relaxed and non-judgemental way. The more you can help them explore and make sense of their feelings, the better adjusted they will become. So be an authoritative parent, by which I mean set clear boundaries, but maintain that parental warmth and shape behaviour through discussion and positive role modelling and reinforcement.
Help your children to develop social competence by making sure you talk as a family. Being able to communicate easily and politely will almost certainly attract similarly socialised children to form friendships with your own kids. Just as importantly, teach them how to be good listeners as this will show they are interested in others.
It’s also important for parents to monitor what’s going on in terms of social media. This means discussing internet safety, making sure privacy settings are at their highest and also formulating with them a strong set of ground rules that allow you enough access to check that the rules are being respected.
Try to relax and stay in the background while they negotiate not only being somewhere new, but also a new set of faces. I’m sure they will make some mistakes, but they have you there to help them if the going gets tough.