As my wife and I were coming to terms with our own socialization process and frequency, we were faced with the same question for our kids. I must admit, we didn’t put in too much thought about strategizing this bit for our children. Things evolved and may rules were made as well as broken over past few years.
Recently, a younger mother was sharing her dilemma when it comes to the child socializing with his or her friends. I feel the situation is tricky and more complicated now than maybe our childhood time. This is because the choices are enormous. A child potentially can spend time with neighboring children, school mates, friends made at extracurricular activities and so on. If I look around, an average child is going for four to five extracurricular activities during the week. Easy communication with distant friends makes it convenient to fix up a rendezvous and then leave it to the parents to crack the transportation part.
Young parents today have a keen desire to design all aspects of their child’s life. This desire doesn’t end with deciding the school but extends to choice of extra activities, choice of friends and so on. Whether both parents are working or one parent is staying back at home to take care of the child, the child is constantly being ferried from school to home, home to classes, one class to the other, from class to a friend’s place or to a birthday party. I wonder if parents are giving any thought to cut the travel time or time spent in a car or school bus.
So, what can the parents do to strike a balance in their child’s life and letting them have a healthy level of interaction with their peers:
- Don’t Over-engineer: Let the child play naturally in the areas surrounding your home and let him or her mingle with other kids in the neighborhood. Children are good at forming their own circles. Parents trying to choose the friends and forcing the child to interact with these friends doesn’t work well. If there are not many kids of the same age-group in close vicinity, they you will have to take the initiative to find some.
- Broad Supervision: Leaving the choice of friends to the child doesn’t mean that your responsibility is over. You will still have a keep an eye on their general friends’ circle. If you feel that a certain child may have a really bad influence on your child, you will have to intervene. However, a large percentage of children will not fall in this category. Knowing about your kids’ friends circle becomes more important as they grow into teenage.
- Cut travel time: Its your duty to cut the time that the child spends in commuting. Before making social commitments on behalf of your child, do take travel time into account. Considering the fact that the time spent in a car is sedentary and is spent more likely on an Ipad game than on a book, it is not extra beneficial for the child.
- Shift to a Condo: Staying in a large condo is a good way to cut travel time. Many extracurricular activities are offered in these residential complexes. Over time children will have more friends within the condo and will have to travel less to other friends’ houses.
- Diversify the Kids’ Friends Circle: It is good to have a few good and close friends but it is also important that the child interacts with a wider variety of children. Sometimes, the child wants to play only with a certain child all the time. Difficulty arises if the other child has to move away or out of your city. In one case I came to know of, a child was coming back to play with his old mate everyday. This particular child has no inclination to play with other children near his new house. This happened because for a few years, he played everyday with this friend and parents felt he will be devastated if they didn’t let him continue. This may not be possible or sustainable for everyone.
- Emphasise Outdoor Playing: Going to another friend’s house is ok once in a while. But mostly the children should be playing outdoors. I have seen a bunch of kids get-together at a friend’s place and get busy with their own Ipads or smartphones. Evening playing time is strictly for outdoor playing and I absolute don’t like the child spending too much time at another child’s place as explained in next point.
- Managing Sleep-overs: Having sleep-overs once in a while is fine but I find that it is being overdone now a days. If you send the child for a sleep-over, make sure that you know and trust the other parents very well. The inviting parents’ job is not to dump all the kids in one room and hope all is well. In one particular instance, the parents whose kid had invited many friends for a sleep-over, left the kids under the care of a ‘trusted’ maid and went out for a party. Pre-teens kids are susceptible to many kinds of experimentation if left unsupervised. Healthy games and interaction is fine but things can turn for the worse if booz, drugs or blue-films come into picture. And these things do happen.
- Manage the Social-Media Monster: Questions like when the child should get a smartphone, what social media should the child be allowed to access etc are taking up every parent’s mindspace. Prohibiting access to social media till the age of 18 is vitually impossible today. I see people freely allowing access to FB and Instagram to their children well below the legal age. Parents are making their kids’ profile as early as when they are born. Many are doing it for their 8-10 year olds. The kids in 10-15 year bracket have high-end phones and full access to social media. These are same parents who forward messages about Steve Jobs not giving gadgets to his own children! I leave it to your judgement as to what device you want to buy and which sites you want your child to access but do give it an active thought. There is a lot of grey-ground between no-access and full-access. Choose your point carefully. This is also the part subject of my earlier blog When to say no to kids?
I started by saying – ‘don’t over-engineer’ but then asked you to supervise things in many aspects. As you can make out, there are areas where you need to leave the child free to explore and experiment but there are also places where you need to firmly step in. There is no easy answer or process and we are all still in the learning game. As I told my wife the other day, ”The moment I feel confident of handling a six year old child, my child is nine”. One idea may be to read teen-parenting advice before the child turns a teenager. Mostly, we wait for the teenage blues to hit us before picking up a teen parenting book. Let me do this today!
A seeker and explorer in the quest for lasting happiness, health and well-being. An MBA from XLRI Jamshedpur and a Mechanical Engineer from IIT Delhi. Has been a senior banker with large global banks like Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank and ANZ Bank. Working in these demanding global institutions with a gruelling schedule and plenty of business travel. Was fortunate to realise the importance of health and wellbeing early on. Learnt and practiced many wellbeing tools and techniques to focus on his own well-being while balancing the demands of a high-profile career and a lovely family.