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Conflicting Parenting Styles

Elementary School Expert Advice from Barbara Potts

Q: My eight-year-old son made a new friend this past school year who I don't approve of. This friend rarely takes a bath or changes his clothing. He even engages in dangerous activities, such as sending bricks down slides, in full view of his parents, who do nothing about it. I am finding that the parents seem to be seriously lacking in parenting skills. I have discussed the problem with the school teacher, who simply said that the boy is getting no guidance at home and that her "hands are tied." I spoke to the school principal who told me to take it up with the school social worker. The school social worker got very angry with me and asked me why I was telling him this.

My son likes this boy, but I am not enjoying this boys' presence in my house, or even in the schoolyard with my son. I have virtually cut off the playdates. Am I wrong to do so?

A: If you feel that your son is not safe in the presence of this friend, you have every right to tell them that they cannot play together anymore. You are responsible for ensuring your son's safety.

Keep in mind that you may be the only positive, structured adult in the life of your son's friend. Even though you are not responsible for him or his behavior, if you refuse to let him play with your son you will be denying him the chance to get positive feedback from you.

Consider allowing your son to play with him, but only in a structured setting (your house or yard) with your close supervision. Make sure that your son knows what you expect of his behavior, and make sure that his friend knows about those expectations as well.

In our society, parents have the right to raise their children any way that they choose so long as the child's health and safety is not endangered; that is why the teacher and school social worker were not able to be more helpful. If you ever feel that your son's friend is in danger, call the child protective services office in your area.

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Barbara Potts has worked as an elementary school counselor for many years. She has a BA in psychology from Wake Forest University, and an M.Ed. in Guidance and Counseling from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.


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