My Greatest Hope For My Kids As They Grow Older
And I imagine it's a hope that every parent shares.
My son recently told me he is looking forward to starting his sophomore year in high school. After experiencing the previous year of isolation in virtual education, he really appreciates being around other kids and meeting new friends — and reconnecting with old ones, too.
As we were talking about it all, he mentioned a girl he knew from grade school and how I wouldn’t even recognize her anymore if I saw her. He said last year she had fallen in with the “bad crowd,” and I was both surprised and sad to learn this.
There is a powerful influence that takes over during the teen years that comes from the peer culture our kids are exposed to every day. The decisions our kids make about whom they spend time with and choose to listen to and trust oftentimes become their guiding compass for who they grow to be. And the ever-popular saying “Who you surround yourself with, is who you become” rings so true. Of course, this isn’t always the case, but I’ve seen this transformation happen regularly over the 30-plus years of working with teenagers.
And as I’ve raised both of my teens with this knowledge, I am constantly reminding them to choose their friends carefully. I want to help them discern what a true and trusted friend really is as I explain to them the profound impact those friends will have in their lives.
There are no perfect kids, and, my gosh, everyone knows the teen years are fraught with so many challenges, and even more choices — and making mistakes and recovering from those mistakes are how our kids learn many important life lessons. There are bound to be some serious pitfalls in every teen’s life, and having good friends doesn’t protect anyone from all the traps that are set out for our kids to accidentally or intentionally get tangled up in.
But I confess, I’d rather my kids not spend time with those who do drugs, break the law or disrespect other people. I would guess all parents prefer their kids find friends who have moral integrity, future ambitions and aspire to do and be their best. I want my kids to hang around other kids who care about their grades and work on their growing responsibilities as they age.
I want my kids to be surrounded by friends who are compassionate and concerned about the welfare of one another and support each other through big things and small things, too. I want their peer groups to be filled with healthy communication and honest conversation, with no backstabbing or deception. And most of all, I want my kids to BE this kind of friend, too. It’s a tricky thing to want this for our kids when they are simply learning as they go. It’s often the blind leading the blind on this scary journey into the wild of growing up. I constantly hope my kids choose wise friends to join them along the way.
If our kids can find the right crew to fill the boat, they might work together to form the framework of support and direction that can sail them through any storm out in the vast unfamiliar waters they wade through. But putting ANY teenagers together to steer a boat is a risky dilemma — no matter how equipped they might be.
There can be a sudden shift that rocks the boat when any one of them makes a reckless move, or someone grows restless and decides to steer the ship into dangerous waves that seem more exciting and fun. And as parents, we watch our kids leave the dock and set out to sea as they grow up and start making their own choices while we hope against all hope that they have picked the right sea mates for their voyage.
We hope they choose the people who will work to keep them all safe and well, healthy and strong, as they learn together the best course to go. But kids change, ideas emerge, culture shifts and things go wrong. This is how it has always been and will always be. There’s nothing new here. All we need to do is take a good look back into our own teenage years and see proof of the tumultuous friendships, dangerous decisions and perilous plans that continually altered who we wanted to be and where we wanted to go.
It’s really amazing we survived those crazy years, isn’t it? But I remember the keepers in those daunting days. The trusted friends who stuck with me when I failed, carried me when I fell, and believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. They are forever etched in my heart, and no matter how old I get I will always be grateful for their friendships. They were the cornerstone of my life and consequently the rafts I needed to stay afloat when I was the one rocking the boat, capsizing it into the sea. I can only hope I was the same for them.
These are the kinds of friends I want more than anything for my kids to find while they are scavenging the ground trying to lay their foundation down in who they are going to be. They are the friends who traverse alongside you through rocky roads and sketchy alleyways and pull you back to safety when you’re dangling on dilapidated bridges. They are the ones who take over the helm when the ship starts to wreck and throw out the buoy if you should fall in. This is the one thing I want more than anything for my kids — and really, these are the kinds of friends all our kids need and deserve to have.