Wednesday, July 17, 2024
The Parents' Voice

You are who you hang with

As my kids head towards a life where they begin to choose their friends I find myself repeating a sentence that became a motto in my home growing up: “you are who you hang with.” It’s a hard transition when you go from planning playdates, creating predetermined friendships and having some control over who your children are friends with to hearing stories about the new people they are meeting – of which you know little to nothing about. Although it’s a really exciting time in their lives when they start to make friends and find people they share interests with and connect to, it can also be scary as heck for parents. It’s a time where you know less about what they are doing, discussing, how they’re interacting and so on.
These days I’m reminded about my own childhood. Growing up there was hardly a day that went by where my dad wasn’t saying “don’t forget, you are who you hang with” to one of us. Having been blessed with three sisters, my childhood had kids ranging from 0-12. With a span of 12 years between us girls there was always someone in a new stage. I was in grade school when my older sisters were in high school and college and my little sister was in diapers - we all required somewhat different life lessons. However, the constant sentence that seemed to fit a lot of the problems was the good ol’ “you are who you hang with.” This is one of the mottos that stuck for me, it helped me make a lot of good choices and I’m hoping it does the same for my kiddos. When you hear it enough times, it tends to float around in your brain during the moments you are choosing your actions, or we can hope it does.
You are who you hang with is quite simply an explanation for being careful who you choose to be with. I can remember saying things like “yeah dad, but it wasn’t me, I was just with them.” Those were the moments where the famous line would come out – “it really doesn’t matter if it wasn’t you Shelley, you were there,” which of course meant that by extension I did it too. Isn’t it true? When a crowd of kids are doing something there really isn’t much of a distinction between who actually did it and the bystanders. In fact, bystanders are often more to blame for allowing the thing to happen in the first place. It took a long time to understand the effect of those words but when I finally did I realized that I had to live with the choices I made and also the choices friends I chose to be with made. This was clarity.
I’ve already heard my daughter say things like, “I like so- and-so but not when they do such-and-such”. I applaud her on her moral compass, it can be really hard to find and especially hard to listen to. I marvel at the fact that at such a young, impressionable age her morals can shine through. Although she desperately wants to find a group she can fit into she considers things like how some actions make her feel. We tend to have nightly discussions, during these discussions I try to patiently listen to the interactions she feels she needs to discuss, I try and not pass judgement, and I try and only lend advice when she asks for it. Let me tell you, this is hard and I’m not always great at it.
Today’s teens face a lot of different conundrums, more than we did “in the old days.” There’s social media to contend with, those little phones following them everywhere they go and much bigger issues to align on. There are more ways to get into trouble and less strong and clear lines to follow. It isn’t easy. I often remind her of the good ol’ sentence “you are who you hang with.” I try to provide opportunity for her to think critically. How would it make you feel if . . . or, what makes you feel happy . . . Some days these are easier to answer than others, but these questions always provide a time to reflect and hash out situations.
I know this is a work in progress and in many ways just beginning. I have much to learn in the way of parenting this age group and often feel like a fish out of water. On the hard days, I remind myself that all I can do is my best. I am always so grateful that I had parents teaching me about my morals during the years that I needed it and I’m hopeful these words and discussions will help me get my kids through the years that they’ll need some shaping and reflecting. Maybe I’ll just drive them crazy though, you never know.
Parents of little ones, enjoy the days where you plan and surround your child with the children you want, the parents you want to hang out with and the activities you think they’ll enjoy. Today’s article was a bit of a futuristic topic for many of you but I promise you this: these days will come and it’ll be far too soon.

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