Written by Doctor G

Bad Influence

So, there’s this kid that is friendly with my son, Sam, who’s 10.

The kid (and the kid’s mother) very clearly wants them to be friends; they often invite Sam along to do fun stuff and the mom calls me to chat, etc.
But this kid is trouble – he’s always in trouble at school (sassing teachers, defiance, not following directions) and he is not a good influence on Sam, to the point where Sam doesn’t even want to be around him, because Sam doesn’t want to be in trouble all the time. How do I politely distance myself from this mom and her son, who so very clearly want to be friends with my kid (and me)?

I feel guilty – this boy is shuttled back and forth between his mom and his dad. At his mom’s, he has a step brother (with a live-in girlfriend); no idea what life is like at his dad’s. Clearly he’s loved and cared for, but it’s not the home Sam comes from. So yeah, guilt. Middle-class, married guilt on my part.


Vi, in Princeton, NJ

A: Let’s answer your stated question first. “How do I politely distance myself from this mom and her son?” You have several options. You could be bold and say “We’re not going to allow Sam to come over there because I’m worried about the trouble Sam gets into when he hangs out with your son.” This will not alleviate your guilt, and cuts the kid off pretty cold, but if you feel he is a true danger to your son then it’s a viable option. You can make up excuses until they get the hint and move on or you’ve had enough time to see some maturing in this kid. Or you can fake a long-lasting typhoid infection and government quarantine in your home.

A question for you is: Do you want to cut off this friendship or just put boundaries on it? First off you need buy in from Sam. Has he completely written this kid off? Remember, my feeling is that kids should be inclusive at school but get to refuse invitations outside of school. If he would like to hang out with this kid but not get into trouble, and you see benefit to Sam (and maybe this other child) to fostering a friendship then you maybe have the opportunity to open Sam’s horizons a little and teach a bigger life lesson.

What can our kids learn from having a friend who is “trouble?” They learn the difference between a person and their actions. They learn that friendship doesn’t mean rubber-stamping someone else’s behavior or blindly following. They stay alert for unexpected goodness in a person and unexpected danger in a situation, and to make decisions in an evolving, flexible way.

If you and your spouse (“married guilt”) decide that this kid can have a place in Sam’s life and Sam agrees, you can do that without too much risk. Remember the old maxim to keep your friends close and your enemies closer? This is even more true of our kids’ friends.

If you don’t trust someone your son wants to hang out with, make sure your son knows he is welcome to spend time with this child AT YOUR HOUSE or under your supervision. Sam may be showing excellent judgment with this situation, in which case you should follow his lead. For sure, though, there will be a new kid in the future that Sam will love and you will not. So assuage your guilt (and teach some life lessons) by inviting this kid along with your family instead of sending Sam off with his.

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5 thoughts on “Bad Influence”

  1. Oh, come on people. 118 “like” this blog. Many others read it and like it as well. A blog is where you comment on what Dr G writes. This is looking more like a Q & A session, and if this is what you want – here you have it: My name is Dr. A and I have three kids (This is where you say: “we love you Dr. A.”).

    Seriously. “Bad influence” – this is a term we adult (as part of the American society) have implemented on what we think is good and wrong not in our eyes, but as of what the surrounding society might think. I remember the “bad influence” around me as growing up. The he guy who smokes, the drop-out from school, the slutty girl and even my best friend who was pregnant (thank G-D not from me). All these help me shape who I am, how I think and how I act. If I seclude my kids from such “bad influence”, what will they do when they are finally exposed to such behavior?

    I pity the kid you are talking about. Clearly he has many personal issues and he is taking it out on the teachers and fellow students. I would encourage you to embrace him, rather than distance him. He will save a lot of money on therapy in the future, and who knows, your kid might find a true friend.

  2. “We love you Dr. A!”

    Seriously. I appreciate most your point about the danger of secluding our kids now from bad influences.

    Many parents want to use the time we have with our kids at home to protect them. There is, they believe, plenty of time later for kids to see the darker aspects of the world.

    I believe this is a well-intentioned mistake.

    Letting our kids learn about the harder things in life while they still live with us gives us a fighting chance of influencing how are children think and behave regarding topics like drugs and sex and self-discipline. Shielding children until they are out on their own does not give them the tools they will need to use good judgment later.

    The mom in this question seems more to be navigating a situation in which her son has already used good judgment.
    Kudos to her for the question and for the struggle.

  3. I’m not interested in shielding him. I am if anything the opposite, I want him to learn to cope with this sort of thing on his own. but he’s TEN, not a teenager. he needs some intelligent guidance from me. and since I don’t much care for the friend in question and could happily avoid his whole family, and since I have no desire whatsoever to play amateur psychologist with this friend, I am trying not to let my dislike of said kid influence San unnecessarily. Dr A, you might cut us other parents a break and give us some credit before you assume we want to wrap our kids in cotton wool. I don’t. But neither do I want him sacrificing his wants and needs at the hands of a problematic friendship he is not even fully sure HE wants.

  4. Dear Babelbabe
    I first want to thank you for starting a dialog. I think this will be fun expressing ourselves and not just reading what Dr G has to say. We all have opinions, and we all express them. Here is a chance to express them publicly.
    I never asked you “to play amateur psychologist”. As you pointed out, he is 10 (or TEN). He is allowed to make mistakes. Actually, if he does not – something is wrong. We are there to correct these mistakes, but let him make them. This kid has problems, and we as adults and society categorized him as the trouble maker. I just think kids should make their own decisions, and with that their own mistakes. And like I said, we will always be there to support them. This is the reason we read this blog (although we also want to support you Dr G). We care. If we did not care, we would not be here.
    In regards to “wrap(ing) our kids in cotton wool”. I do not believe that there is a single way to raise children. We would love to shield them from all harm. However, I think they need to be exposed to the real world that is out there, for better and for worse. Some of my strongest experiences were when I served in the military. I am not talking about combat, but rather the melting pot where you get to meet people that you would have never even talked to. Most of them, by the way, I will never see again. I remember the guy who was considered a trouble maker because he did not want to clean his weapon. We all had to circle the mountain in full gear as a consequence, and we hated him for that. But now he is my best friend.
    Babelbabe, I give everyone all the slack in the world. I will not tell you what to do. I will tell you what I think is wrong. I do not have answers. Actually, I have more questions. My kids have been raised based on intuition more then on experience, and by what the society around us tells me, it looks like my wife and I are doing an OK job. I will not say perfect and it can always be better. Therefore, I listen to what is said, including criticism like yours. Thank you. Seriously.

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