“My friends get to do more than I do!” How do I react?

When kids complain “I never get to do anything good,” parents some-times react with anger and frustration: “So we’re horrible parents.” “Maybe you should go live with Ray if you think his parents treat him so much better.” “Why don’t you stop feeling sorry for yourself? You do a whole lot more than I did when I was a kid.”

Kids these ages want permission to do what their friends are doing, whether it’s staying out later, wearing makeup, seeing certain movies, or going to an unchaperoned party. They aren’t thinking about safety, arrangements, costs, or their parents’ values. And when they complain, they’re not deliberately trying to hurt their parent’s feelings or act in inconsiderate ways. They’re simply focusing on their need to be part of the group.

When a child repeatedly makes requests that his parents consider unreasonable, they may feel upset not only with him but with his friends. Parents wonder if their child is too dependent on his peers, and they worry that particular friends may be bad influences: “I don’t trust Jose’s judgment. I don’t want you playing inside his house.”

Parents also become frustrated with other parents, especially those they believe are too lenient. One mother refused to let her eleven-year-old walk around a mall with a classmate who was allowed to spend hours at the shopping center unsupervised: “I don’t care if Angela’s mother lets her go by herself. I’m not comfortable letting you wander in the mall without an adult.”

If your child complains about the restrictions you impose, try to listen patiently without responding immediately. He may just need to vent his feelings: “It’s not fair! I’m always the first one who has to go home.” “You’re too protective. You worry all the time.” He may not argue as much with your decisions if he feels heard.

Avoid angry defensive statements, even if you feel unfairly attacked. When he says, “You never let me do anything,” explain why you’re refusing permission for a particular activity; if your refusal is non-negotiable, let him know that there’s no point in trying to persuade you: “Every family is different. These are our family’s rules.”

Offer acceptable alternative activities: “Call Jay and ask if he can come over.” “See if you can find a friend who’d like to go to the pool.” “Let’s stop at the video store so you can get something to watch.”

Periodically re-evaluate your rules, and gradually allow him more freedom as he gets older. But as you ease some restrictions, continue to give firm direction: “Stay with your friends.” “Check in with me.” And continue to say no to things that seem unsafe or inappropriate. Throughout these pre- and early adolescent years, your child needs clear limits, guidelines, and supervision.

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