A friend of mine posted an article recently that I found very interesting and somewhat surprising. Written by Greg Trimble, the article discussed “The Most Dangerous Temptation That Faces Our Youth.” I’m sure right now you are going through a list of bad influences, right? I did the same thing and I bet you came up with a similar list. But, does that list include the “what has more influence over you and your kids than anything else”: friends?
Yep, turns out social media, drugs and alcohol, promiscuity, broken families, guns and violence, and the likes don’t have the power over us that our friends do. The success your child has in school is not so dependent on what classes they take, what teachers they have, what school they attend, or even your influence at home but more so on those they closely associate with, even at a young age. In fact, according to the article, the universal common denominator that dictates the course of our lives comes down to the people we hang out with on a consistent basis. They not only impact our choices, but our social calendars, what we eat, what we wear, and what we do for a living.
This could be our chosen group of friends, a team we are on, or girlfriend and boyfriend. In short, the friends you choose are the catalyst of your own happiness and destruction and the friends your kids choose will more than likely dictate the path they’ll go down in life. No one, regardless of how strong or morally upright you think you are, can stand up to the daily influences of the people you hang around the most. Friends, come to find out, especially in our youth, have a more powerful influence over us than anything else. Makes you think, right?
It made me think back to friends choices I’ve made throughout my life. As a little girl growing up in a small town, my friends were pretty much my neighbors. If you lived near me, we were friends. As I ventured into junior high and high school however, I got to make choices regarding friends and I’m here to say they weren’t always the best choices. I constantly heard my mom and dad telling me they didn’t really care for so-and-so and asking me why I didn’t instead hang out with fill-in-the-blank with a “nice” girl. As much as I fought them and thought I knew all, in the end, they were right.
I ended up getting my friends act together in college and to this day, I call it a God thing. I showed up at the University of Oklahoma in 501 Levis and a flannel shirt only to find my suite and roommates decked in Polo, Izod, and Penny Loafers. It was a scary scene of preppy meets mountain mamma but I loved it. I quickly learned to love school and love learning too. You could party hard (it was the ‘80s after all) but you had to study hard too. Before I knew it, this former barely passing high school classes girl was on the Dean’s List. People often wonder why I love OU so much and this is one of the main reasons. It saved my life in many ways by giving me good friends….both in values and morals and in loyalty and lifelong friensdships.
It could have easily all gone wrong had I met and made the “wrong” friends. We probably all know someone who falls in this category. The girl or boy who seemed to have it all but ultimately finds trouble and heartache. Nine times out of 10 it’s probably due to who they hang out with. We often ask “what went wrong with Julie?” and wonder where we as parents went wrong or where Julie went wrong. We tend to blame drugs, laziness, promiscuity and the likes but news flash: if their friends weren’t into any or all of those, they probably wouldn’t be either.
So what can parents do? Yes, try to steer them in the right direction and to avoid the icky and filthy pitfalls that are everywhere, but also pay close attention to their friends. Bad friends mean bad choices. It’s that simple. Trimble also says it’s important to teach them respect, practice faith, keep their clothes on and their language clean, and have a strong work ethic. If the friends they hang out with follow these same guidelines, they most likely will too.
It’s not so much social media we should worry about or movies and music. It’s friends…both those we have on “reality” TV and in real life. If you choose good friends, you’ll probably stay clear of bad movies, TV shows, and music but if you take part in any or all of those, they too become your “friends” and you will probably start acting, talking, and dressing like them. We tend to compare ourselves to these fictional friends and to real friends as well. That’s why your pals can heavily influence your self-esteem as we compare ourselves to the group or clique we are in and the one we wish we were in.
In today’s cyber-focused world, society of strangers, and internet bullying, you kids will most likely be exposed to evil and become caught up in it all. We have hundreds of “friends” online but there loneliness prevails due to the shallowness of all this friendom. Relationships, specifically friendships, are becoming more and more shallow and less meaningful and authentic.
Encourage your kids to join a club, be on a team, or join a group like band. Studies show these encourage kids to want to go to school and be proud of something. It also prevents idle time and boredom, both of which often result in trouble. Playing on a team or being in the band means you don’t have time to mess around. It also means you learn teamwork, the value of practice and hard work, learn to take direction from someone other than your parents, and strive to be good at something with your friends, who are often right there by your side.
The internet and our social groups influence how we dress as well. Style consultant and author Sherrie Mathieson says that when it comes to your clothes, whatever style you’re seeing on a daily basis is the one you will more than likely choose for yourself.
But it’s not just youth that is influenced by friends; we all are. In his “Guardrails” talks and written works, Andy Stanley reminds us that friends influence the direction and quality of our lives regardless of our age. Sadly, he says people often drop their guard around those they are comfortable with and who accept them and that’s precisely when and why we are easily influenced by them in both good and bad ways. He suggests putting up “guardrails” to protect us from dangers and bad choices. Ultimately, if you surround yourself with wise and good people you too will be wise and good. Just yesterday “Happiness Project” author Gretchen Rubin posted on this subject, saying strong relationships make it far more likely that we will take joy in life, lengthen life, boost immunity, and reduces the risk of depression.
When choosing your squad, you are basically making a monumental decision that will influence so much of your life. It may sound cliché, but choose your friends wisely. And think quality, not quantity as it’s said we’re the sum total of the five people we hang out with the most. It only takes one bad egg to steer someone in a bad direction.
In support of this are Nicholas Chirtakis’ TED talks during which he addresses research that shows non-drinkers who spend time with drinkers significantly increase their chances of becoming drinkers, a fact that holds true with obesity, violence, immoral activity, drug abuse, and even risk divorce.
Photo courtesy libbyvandploeg
But let’s change the focus a bit and look at the positive ways our tribes influence us. Yes, they are there with a shoulder to cry on, a laugh to share, and overall support and respect, but they also influence everything from our financial achievements to career performance. Looking at your friends you might be thinking, “No way does he or she have that much power over me,” but they do.
According to Kelly Kearsley of sofi.com, friends bolster our self-control by helping us avoid making bad choices and resisting temptations and they impact us in a number of ways, including:
They motivate us to work harder. Students who hang out with friends who get good grades improved their own performance and grades and same with co-workers. In short, if you want to improve your lot in life, hang out with people who are already there.
When it comes to our health, friends can either make us healthier or unhealthier, including our eating habits, which are heavily influenced by those we consistently associate with. In fact, your chances of becoming obese increase 57 percent if you have a friend who is obese. Consider this, you go out to eat with friends and have every intention of ordering something healthy but as you see them order burgers and pizza, you go along those lines. The opposite holds true too. If you sat down to eat and were craving fried chicken but your buddies all ordered grilled chicken, chances are you’d follow suit. It’s the same situation with exercise. Having friends to exercise with improves a person’s health and if your friends aren’t physically active, you probably won’t be either.
Friends, especially good ones, are hard to come by however. Making friends means being a friend. As I tell my little preschoolers and always tell my daughter, “No one has to be your friend. You need to make someone want to be your friend.” Thankfully she has a strong support system of good and loyal friends.
My husband does too as he still has close and trusted friends he’s known since grade school. He also has a great group of college contacts, adult pals, and golf buddies. Me? I count both him and our daughter two of my besties and the rest of my squad consists of my coworkers, who inspire my faith; longtime friends who I may not see regularly but I know I can count on in a heartbeat; and those college girls who this month will be taking our annual girls trip…our 17th straight.
Not all friendships last, which can be a good thing, as we go through friends phases and sometimes a friendship just expires. Thankfully as we age we grow in relationship self-worth with self-esteem, which take off around age 60 and peak in our 70s. It makes sense, as a University of Kansas study revealed you have to dedicate 50 hours to graduate from acquaintance to “casual friend,” 90 hours to jump to “friend,” and more than 200 hours to earn “close friend” status. Yep, that’s a lot of time and effort, but from the sounds of it, it’s time well spent.