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October 11, 2012
The Real Issue
An Undesirable Friend
by Cyndie Swindlehurst


What should you do when your second grader is invited to play at someone's home where you are not comfortable with him playing?  

In the particular case I'm thinking of, the child is generally well-behaved. But he is exposed to a lot of media I'm uncomfortable with — he talks in detail about R-rated movies and violent video games, and the way he talks about women and girls is disturbing (though I suspect he doesn't really know what he's saying).  The child has a big bedroom with a huge TV and tons of movies (including some PG-13 ones) and video games.  

I know and like his mom, but it’s clear that their family’s standards are a just different enough from ours that I am not comfortable with my son, as young as he is, being at their home.

My first instinct is to invite this child to our home instead.  But in our community, it's customary to take turns hosting play dates, and families seem to follow this custom quite strictly.

So if I invite the other child to our home, I will be sending a message that says, "I really hope our kids can be friends, and it's your turn to invite my child over next — act soon to be polite!"  The whole "our house will be the fun place where all the neighborhood kids come to play" philosophy doesn't work here.  

For now, we simply decline the invitations, saying that our child is not available to play that day or week. But how many invitations can you decline before some sort of explanation is in order? Also, what if the mother, in a sincere effort to be helpful, asks when a good time would be or offers to allow us to pick the time?


Explanation? What would you say? “I’m sorry, Glenda, but Davis can’t play at your house because I know you allow Frederick to watch movies full of sex and violence, and by the way, have you noticed that he calls women *bleeps*?”

No. You are not going to say that. You want to handle this situation in such a way that you can meet the other family in the grocery store with no awkwardness. And you want to avoid the appearance of making judgments about other people, even though that is what you, as a parent, are duty-bound to do.

So you have two options. One, flout convention and only allow the boys to play at your house. Two, discourage the friendship by neither extending nor accepting invitations.

Some parents welcome all children into their home, even if their own children are not allowed to go to all of their friends’ homes. You can decide to do this, despite the conventions of your community. It will require you to extend frequent invitations to this other child while declining his invitations. You should practice a response to invitations in which you just love having the kids play at your house and you just don’t want to trouble his mother, who deserves some time off. Or something like that.

If you take this approach, remember that even in your own home, you cannot monitor activities or language unless you are physically in the room.

The other approach is to quietly discourage the friendship by neither extending nor accepting invitations.

It sort of pains me to say that you should avoid this child because he is, after all, a child. And he might benefit from your son’s friendship and from spending time in your home. But this is what you must do if you are truly concerned about his influence on your son.

Discouraging a friendship is a delicate operation. I suggest you manage your child’s schedule such that he is simply not available to play with the other child. Don’t make a big deal of it. Regretfully decline his invitations to play. When asked to choose a date by the other mother, be noncommittal. If your child wants to invite this boy to your home, say that you already have plans (always keep a few activities in mind). Make play dates with other children. Never lie by promising to invite him some other time.

If this sounds like avoidance, it is! I’m a big fan of avoidance whenever possible. If you don’t call and don’t accept invitations, the invitations will peter out over time. Your child will have other activities and friends in place of this one.

Avoidance will not work on all children. I know at least one child who would pick up on what you are doing and demand to know why. If this situation arises, you will have to use your best judgment on how to explain your reservations. You will also need to emphasize that sometimes perfectly nice people do things that your family does not do. And that your child should always be kind and a good example. And that sometimes moms and dads just have a bad feeling about a situation.

You should instruct your child not to discuss this conversation with the other child. There is no occasion I can think of for telling a child that his family’s standards are not as high as yours.

Whichever approach you choose, flouting convention or discouraging the friendship, the most important thing you can do is to teach your child your family’s standards in such a way that he can identify for himself the problems with the other child’s behavior. Your teaching needs to be positive: focus on what your family does to follow the commandments and the prophet, and not on what other families do wrong.

Your child needs to be prepared. Especially as he gets older, you will not know as much about his friends and their homes, because he will stop telling you about the things he knows you will object to. He will be the person primarily responsible for judging where and with whom he spends his time.

It is absolutely, 100% guaranteed that your son will encounter inappropriate movies, videos, TV shows, music, video games, websites, books, magazines, beverages, substances, and other things at a friend’s house in the future. Teach him how to recognize things he should not look at or listen to or ingest. And practice with him how he will respond to his friends, and also to their parents, when these things are presented to him as acceptable.

Let him know that he can always call you for a ride home.

You’ll be happy to know that the writers over at the Friend regularly discuss this topic in their magazine! For example, you can read “Leaving Bad Behind” and the accompanying “Question Corner” from the August 2012 issue for ideas on how to identify and respond to these situations.

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