Today I was struck by the beautiful power of friendship. Our family moved to a foreign country for over half a year, to a place where we didn’t know any other families, a place where we were, in many ways, friendless. Another family moved to our new city at exactly the same time, a Dutch family with boys the same age as our girls. Over the past several months, the friendship that I have developed with this mother has amazed and inspired me. My Dutch friend and I come from very different places, not just geographically but also ideologically. And yet, we can support, care about, and look out for one another, connected by the things that we do share. Our love for our children, our search for connection in a new place, our affinity for laughter and good food, all of these things draw us together in spite of our differences. One of my daughter’s has fallen in love with my Dutch friend because of the way that she listens and cares for everyone. She told my friend that her birthday was coming up, and she was sad to be celebrating it so far away from home and her long-time friends. So what did this woman do? She got her a little present, of course. It was not big or expensive, but the impact was huge. My friend’s action reminded me of all the amazing friends in my life, of Shelly and Jennifer who helped take care of my kids when I was having health problems, of Caron who challenges me and supports me in my dreams, of Amy who shares my passion for kids, of my sisters Lorie and Julie who have been there through thick and thin, and Susan, Cherisse, Trisha, and Rachel who help me to believe in the potential that my work has to make a difference. And, then, of course there’s my husband, Stephen, who is the best friend anyone could have. Friendships are vitally important in our lives. The best ones help us to envision the potential that resides inside and encourage us to reach for that, to believe in who we can become. Reaching out in big and small ways to show our love and respect for our friends, taking the time to listen, laughing together, standing up for each other, all of these moments build a powerful friendship that helps a child know that she is not alone.
These are the types of friendships that our children need to be seeing and need to be developing. Popular culture often depicts girls as being mean to and jealous of one another. This is one of the main issues that I had with the Kind Campaign teaming with Monster High. While the former is about reducing girl on girl bullying, the latter seemed to use it quite often as a way to build drama and even get laughs in their videos. I’ve been keeping my eye on Monster High since this partnership was announced, and I have to say that the more recent episodes, such as Fear Pressure, do focus more on accepting others for their differences. I very much hope that this will be a continuing trend for this popular brand. Our girls need more opportunities to see depictions of positive female relationships in their media.
Our children and adolescents need to see healthy models of friendships both in their everyday lives and in media. Here are some tips for helping those in your life learn about healthy friendships:
- From a young age, focus on what it means to be a good friend. Model positive friendship skills yourself. For example, don’t say negative things about friends in front of your child when possible. Of course, you may have to talk about a choice that someone makes that doesn’t work for your family, so when that happens, focus on the way we all have to set our own limits according to our value system rather than criticizing the other family.
- Notice what type of friend your child is becoming. Is she a good listener, does she show that she cares? What about negative friendship characteristics? If your child is becoming a bully or a gossip, nip it in the bud by addressing it directly. They may not even notice that they’re doing something that is hurting others. Just like we teach our children to walk and talk, we need to teach them how to be a good friend. Sometimes that means pointing out things that they may be doing to hurt others. These are difficult conversations, but they’re vital to helping your child develop a healthy understanding of friendship.
- Help your child choose media that promotes positive friendship skills. For younger children, the American Girl series, Magic Tree House, even Junie B. Jones provide great opportunities to talk with your child about how to be a good friend and to discuss choices the characters made that weren’t good for their friendship. As your child gets older, the Harry Potter and Hunger Games books have some very powerful lessons on friendship. Take the opportunity to explore this issue with your child as they read the book, talking about not only the choices that the characters make that are positive, but also those that hurt others. Give your child the chance to think about what they might have done in the same situation, what would have been a better choice, and how our actions impact those around us.
Learning to be a good friend is one of the most important lessons in life. You can use media to help your child and adolescent understand forceful truths about what it means to be a good friend and the significance of friendships in our lives. Take the opportunity to explore this topic with them in planned and spontaneous ways. One day, you will realize that your child is thinking about friendship in an active way, and working to be the best friend and choose the best friends that they can. That will be a great day!