How should I react to the wrong people

Parents worry if their children - regardless of their age - get into bad company: This can be the naughty class clown in elementary school, but also the aggressive clique among young people. Psychologist Marion Pothmann explains when and how parents should intervene.

Süddeutsche.de: From toddlers to teenagers, what do friends mean to children in the different age groups?

Marion Pothmann: For many children, the mere presence of a child before school is often enough for them to call them their friend, even if they are very different in nature. This is often not a "real" friendship for parents, but it is for the children. Friendships develop in elementary school when the children have the same interests, for example both like to play football. With young people, the content and quality of friendship are becoming more important. It is then more about the development of one's own identity and the demarcation from others: we are both the same and different from the others. For example, we are strongly committed to combating social injustice.

Süddeutsche.de: Even kindergarten and elementary school children have friends who are a bad influence on them. At this age, parents can easily prevent contact, at least in the afternoon. But should they?

Pothmann: The parents have to look very carefully beforehand. Of course there are friends who are not doing a child so good, but there can be different reasons for this: Some are antisocial and aggressive and therefore have a bad influence. Others, on the other hand, dominate the friendship extremely and make their playmates really small. Instead of strengthening the self-confidence of your child through friendship, it becomes more and more insecure. This is of course more difficult to spot than antisocial behavior, but it can be very damaging to a child's development. It is therefore important first of all that the parents have a good overview of their child's social contacts - regardless of their age.

Süddeutsche.de: How do you do it?

Pothmann: They have to be interested and ask: What kind of friends do you have, what do you do together, what do you play? Anyone who knows a lot about friends and has a good relationship with their child also has opportunities to intervene in normal conversation. For example, when parents suggest: "Do this or that together instead of playing a Playstation." If something goes wrong with the friendships, parents should talk to their child first, then to both and calmly to the other parents and caregivers as well. Banning friendships is the very last resort.

Süddeutsche.de: What kind of feelings does this trigger in one's own child when the parents reject a friendship?

Pothmann: Of course, that depends on the character. But it definitely makes you feel insecure when a child notices that the parents are not behind the friendship, they even have something against it. This is the case with young children, but also with adolescents. Even if they claim that they don't care what father and mother say: It still keeps them busy - even those who do a lot with their friends out of spite.

Süddeutsche.de: Does that mean that with their rejection, parents can deepen this friendship?

Pothmann: It is important for young people that they have a stable relationship with their parents, but that they now also have the opportunity to break free from them. Anyone who still wants to exert influence must be prepared to listen to the young people on all topics. And patiently, with an understanding attitude. This does not mean that they should approve and affirm everything, but at least show understanding. In order for teenagers to come to their parents with the issues they are preoccupied with, they have to be ready to listen to the crap the teen has made.