Parenting: Who are your child’s school friends?

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Pupils interact at school. It’s important for parents to guide children on the type of friends they make as this impacts the behaviour and academic work. (Joan Mbabazi)

Parents do their best to groom their children from home but as soon as they cross to school, most of them completely have no idea about the kind of friends their children make. Yet the truth is that these friends actually influence children either positively or negatively on all aspects of life such as dress code, academics, speaking style, manners and much more.

Gershom Buzare, the director of studies at Kigali Parents Primary School and father of two, says he minds a lot about the kind of friends his children associate with because good children obviously teach good morals unlike badly behaved ones that have a negative influence.

“Friends play a great role in our life; they determine our destiny. As the saying goes, ‘tell me your friends and I tell you who you are’, good friends will always mean good for us. So each parent should know the kind of friends their children have and even take an extra mile to identify and befriend their parents,” he says.

 Buzare adds that brilliant children help their weaker counterparts to learn and boost their confidence since children learn best from their peers compared to their teachers.

“They learn different skills like manners, writing and reading, among others. Therefore, the earlier a parent knows the friends to their children, the better. If the friends are good then they can be encouraged to stay together, but if they are not, then the parent should recommend to their children to terminate that friendship,” he says.

How to tell a child is having wrong friends

Buzare says when your child’s character is bad, for instance, if they start acting rudely, no longer want to associate with their siblings, hate positive criticism, leave home without permission or return home late, a parent can be sure that their child is having wrong company.

Alex Asiimwe, a parent of five, says if children start behaving differently from how they have previously been, such as isolating themselves from their parent, it is an indication that these children are spending time with bad groups.

“If a child starts hiding information from his parents, has gifts or money beyond what is given to them at home, has unexplained items like phones, or stops attending home gatherings, it could be warning sign that they are under bad influence from friends and parents must address this immediately,” he says.

For Ritah Mutoni, a mother of one who lives in Kigali, when a child starts asking for fancy expensive gadgets, adapts a rare lifestyle such as way of dressing, talking or hairstyle, among others, it is mainly due to the influence of friends.

“When a child has been performing so well in class but starts declining out of the blue, it could be because they have joined an unserious group, they are destructed in class or are surrounded by weak friends who cannot help them excel in their studies,” she says.

How to help children get the right friends?

Asiimwe believes that parents should engage their children in talks about their school experiences since this would help them open up about everything.

“Doing this could make them open up about what they have kept as a secret, yet it is destructive. Encourage them to join objective peer groups, attending productive social events, and most importantly pray with them. Prayer can lead children to the right path,” he says.

Charles Mutazihana, the principal of Kigali Parents School, says they usually counsel and guide students with bad manners.

“We do not isolate them, but just separate those that play in class, or like fighting or are abusive from the good ones so that they do not destruct others while in class. When they do not reform, we involve their parents. I encourage children to assist their ill-mannered friends to turn from bad habits,” he says.

Mutazihana says parents should advise their children to make beneficial friends and as well encourage them to stay on track while at school.

He, however, notes that some children learn bad habits from homes, especially those that have experienced divorce and misunderstandings.

“When children feel isolated due to the unending fights and quarrels between their parents, it sometimes impacts their behavior negatively, the reason we’ve seen some end up on streets. Other times children learn bad morals from congested places like slums because they are surrounded by all kinds of people with different behavior,” he says.

For Jackline Iribagazi, a teacher and counsellor based in Kigali, as a Christian, she believes that children should be trained as the Bible says.

“For instance, Proverbs 22:6, says, ‘Train up a child in a way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it’. Parents should give their children a good moral foundation so that they too can pass on these virtues to the friends they make as they grow,” she says.

Iribagazi adds that parents should teach their children to be trustworthy and impart good morals at home since school just adds to what parents have taught. She also encourages parents to always spare time for their children because when they love them, they tend to behave in a manner that brings respect to the parents.

Iribagazi, however, says children should be given the basic needs like food, shelter, clothes and all necessary school requirements so that they do not lack and develop bad behaviour like stealing.

Children have their say

Nina Isimbi, 10, says she bases on a number of things before making friends but the most important of all is academic performance.

“I prefer befriending best performers in class so they can uplift me when things are tough and I need help,” she says.

Isimbi adds that it is important for her parents to know her friends because they wish the best for her and there is no way they would stand her having bad company. “I also make sure that they meet most of my friends for safety reasons.”

For David Gagasore, a pupil at Kigali Parents School, it is important for his friends’ parents to be friends as well because in case of a problem, their parents can collaborate to see how they can help them.

Cynthia Chyomoro, 11, says, “My parents would be disappointed if I made friends with bad peers because this would lead to poor performance in class. But if I have weak friends in academics, I help them pull up though I would prefer a friend who is willing to help me too in areas where I have weaknesses.”

Chyomoro calls upon her fellow pupils to always put studies first because it is the main reason they are at school.

“Many things come along the way but they should avoid destructive friends if they want a bright future. I also advise fellow pupils to respect teachers and parents, but most importantly to make friends who add value to them,” she says.