Wellness: The Value of Friendship Toward Our Mental Health

As our youth have begun their new school year, many will begin to make friends; some friendships will be fleeting, others will last a lifetime. The friendships that they will develop are initiated by the values of the parents/care-takers that they promote to the youth at a very early age, and it is with hope that they will begin to develop friendships based on these values; the primary virtuous values related to “being good, and doing good.” Children need to know, and understand, what makes good friends, and that they are the “right” kinds of friends. The concept of friendship does not occur naturally among children, it is a cognitive process; they must be taught.

It is quite normal for youth and their parents/care-takers to feel angst and uncertainty as the child attends their first year of school; the parent in “letting go,” and the child being separated from the first real friends they have known; the parents. This is most evident when the child is placed in that first class-room, left to the attendance and guidance of the teacher; the crying, the separation anxiety, etc., which only goes to signify the emotional state of the child. Unless the parents were very doting and overly-protective of the child, it won’t be long before the child adjusts to their new surroundings and begin to make friends with the other students.

As the child develops from year to year, school becomes more acceptable; the continuation of solidified friendships and the academic studies. Yet we know the children of today are faced with many challenges not seen in years past; their safety and security, and those they call their friends, being of paramount importance. For these reasons, parents and teachers must maintain a state of hyper-vigilance.

Parents/care-givers must be ever mindful of whom their children are looking for in friends, most importance of which is the importance of the children keeping the company of friends who affirm the values that the family promotes; that they have the strength of character to stand out from the crowed when the crowed is wrong; that they exhibit courage to do what is right; that they do not give in to bullying behaviors but exhibit behaviors of kindness; that their friends are reliable and are able to understand and exhibit give and take behaviors; that their friends are loyal, that they stick up for each other even when it becomes difficult to do so; that the friends are honest and trustworthy; that the child and their friends are generous, that the friends happiness is placed at the front of your child; and that the child develops humility.

Scouting camp-fire song

“Make new friends but keep the old, the first is silver and the second gold!”

As youth development occurs through learning, children need to know how to be a good friend; this will not occur naturally. They must learn that Good Friends listen to each other; do not put each other down; understand each other’s needs; develop and understanding of each other’s feelings and moods; help each other solve problems; give each other compliments; disagree at times without hurting each other emotionally; remain dependable and respect each other; remain trustworthy; and above all, care about each other.

A major problem which our youth have always had to deal with is the one of peer pressure. This becomes most evident and of major importance as the child enters their adolescent years. Peer pressure can be most profound, and have a major impact on the choices that the child will make. Peer pressure can take two forms: to do which is wrong or to do which is right. Peer pressure to be competitive in sports, for example is a good peer pressure; whereas the peer pressure to cheat or use drugs is a bad thing. The offering of alcohol and other illicit drugs of abuse and use, the pressure to cheat on school exams, being talked into “playing hooky;” as well as many other inappropriate behaviors are of major importance and concern during the child’s adolescent development. Child behavior is a product of learning (although I acknowledge that genetics, “nurturing,” plays a small part in this as well), and the choices the child makes takes a lot of strength and courage to stand up against peer pressure. If the child has been afforded teachings of virtuous behaviors by the parents, and has accepted these virtues, then they become capable of making choices to reject inappropriate peer pressure to do what is wrong. The developments of healthy relationships, of virtuous friends, are most dramatic; and go a long way in developing the ability to overcome negative peer pressure.

Good friends are good for the child’s overall health. Friends can help them celebrate good times and provide support during bad times. Friends prevent loneliness and give the child a chance to offer needed companionship as well. Friends can also increase a sense of belonging and purpose; boost happiness and reduce stress; aid in developing, or improving, self-confidence and self-worth; help in coping with traumas; and encourages the friend to avoid unhealthy lifestyle habits.

Parent’s and/care-takers should be ever mindful of the examples they are setting for the child, as it is through their guidance that the child will have good friends. If the parents are over-indulging in alcohol or using illicit drugs, driving cars inappropriately, swearing and cursing a lot, putting others down or disregarding others feelings, etc.; then that may be the kind of friends that the child will opt for. Do you know who your child’s friends are? Until Next Time, Stay Healthy My Friends!