Why Friends Matter

>     The best examples are always the ones from real life.
    This past weekend I had an opportunity to experience the importance of friendship and the influence of peer groups. It was an event that involved my daughter but the message provided transcends both age and gender.
    A many of you know from prior entries my daughter, Zoe, is 15 years old and goes to an affluent suburban high school in New Jersey. She’s a typical teenager who struggles with all the routine personal and social challenges of her age group. Fortunately, she is in the theater program at this very large school and so, for the most part, her friendships have been formed around this common interest. This helps for the children are creative by nature and share theater as a main focus of their school, and after-school, lives. It does not, however, guarantee anything about ethics, morals, or behavior.  As a general rule, those areas remain the ones of greatest challenge to parents.
    It’s around these issues of ethics, values and behavior that I witnessed something remarkable this past weekend.
    Zoe’s best friend is a neighbor, Emily, who is a year older than she. They met and became friends when we moved here 7 years ago. Both were in public school for these past years and Emily would have been a Sophomore at the same school as Zoe this year but for her decision to transfer to a religious day school. Emily’s decision was based upon her discomfort with the cliquishness and materialism of the girls at the public high school.  As a result of the transfer, Emily has become much more religious and attends services every Friday night and Saturday.
    This past Friday night, Emily’s family invited Zoe and I to join them for Sabbath dinner. It was a heartwarming evening and it was hard to miss Emily’s apparent ease with voluntarily assisting her Mother whenever she could. The next morning, Zoe went to services with Emily and some of the other girls in the neighborhood who also attend the religious day school. The girls stayed long after services were over to help the Rabbi’s wife serve lunch, clean-up and care the her 6(!) toddlers.
    Now here comes the lesson.
    Zoe, as I said, is a typical teenager. Everything I say is generally either flat-out ignored or just plain wrong because I “don’t get it.” Every chore she’s asked to do goes undone unless it’s under duress. However, after spending Friday night watching Emily help her Mom and Saturday with the girls assisting them in helping out the Rabbi’s wife in any way they could, Zoe was like a different child. On Saturday night she helped with dinner, cleaned up after the cats, helped clean up after dinner and voluntarily performed several other chores without being asked. She was also more affectionate than usual.
    This isn’t a fairy tale it’s real life so, no, Zoe’s changed behavior hasn’t lasted. But what’s important about it is that there’s no doubt that the influence of her peers was readily observable.  In this instance, it was an influence for the highest good. This is not always the case with children based upon their associations.
    It’s true that we don’t always have a say about who our kids hang out with… but it’s also true that we probably have more influence than we think. I can make a concerted effort to cultivate my association with the families of the girls Zoe hung out with and I can further make an effort to attend services more often.  I can, and did, praise her for her helpfulness.
    I have always tried to let Zoe know that I value my friends as priceless gifts from the Universe. I am also hopeful she sees that the values and behavior of the women I chose to befriend are consistent with my own.  In contrast, my soon-to-be-ex-husband has no friends, not a single one. As such, he has never had the benefit of the support system friendships can provide in helping us become the best we can be.
    This past weekend reminded me of the powerful influence that those around us have upon our own actions. While I’m not saying others absolutely define us, I am saying that we are all human and subject to the effects our environments and associations have upon us.
    The lesson is to know with certainty that it pays to be alert and aware of who we spend our time with and what we are both learning…and teaching…in the process.

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