In primary school, getting to know your child’s friends and their parents is easy. Most children will stay with their class the whole way through and you’ll form friendships with the mums in the playground, on school trips and through the endless birthday parties and school events.
This all changes when the children move to secondary school. They often travel to school independently, so you don’t meet other children or their parents until parent events – and even then only in passing. New friendships are made and old friends may be in different schools. When your child comes home they’re often talking about lots of new friends, about whom you have no idea.
Meet the friends
There’s a fine line between wanting to meet your child’s new friends and making your child feel like you’re suffocating them. The most important thing is to try and keep them safe and to make sure you stay informed.
If your child starts to form new friendships, invite them round for tea or organise a meeting at a local cinema or bowling alley. You can take them and drop them off and always arrange to collect their new friend, giving you the chance to meet the parents and exchange numbers.
A first year birthday party is another great way to meet the parents and swap numbers. Choosing a venue that you can still attend, but that gives your teen space is a great compromise.
Managing their social media
Secondary school opens a wealth of social media channels and connections. Friends become not just those that they go to school with, but also a virtual world of their friends, friends.
It’s vital that you explain to your child how social reach works, how what they post and tag can be seen by more people than just their friends if they don’t use their settings correctly and how they can be online, or in phone groups safely.
Internet Matters has a great checklist you can follow to check what settings your child should be using and more importantly, how you can set them up. If ever in doubt, YouTube is a great resource to see how to implement the settings.
Meet the parents
Most schools now have a Facebook group. This is a great way to connect with the parents of your kids’ friends, message to swap numbers, organise parties, sleepovers and meeting and generally get to know the parents a bit more.
If you’re friends or even friendly with your child’s friend’s parents, it makes communication so much easier. You know where they live, you get a feel for what the parents are like, their home and their habits and you can feel safe knowing your child will be looked after while they’re visiting their friend.
Equally, friends are not always a representation of their parents, so if you’re not sure about the parents, but are sure about the child, be happy to play host, taxi-driver and be the place they can go to, rather than feeling uneasy about them going to somewhere you’re not totally comfortable with.
As in any situation, use your judgement to work out what’s safe and what’s right for your child. You wouldn’t get into a stranger’s car or go to a stranger’s house, so don’t put your child in that situation. Instil this in your child, explain your reasons and give them educated and informed responses and examples of why you’re putting measures in place to keep them safe, while still awarding them the freedom they desire.