7 Questions to Ask Parents of New Friends
Whether it’s a shift in school levels (such as going from one cluster of schools to another) or your family moves to a different city, making friends at a new school can be tough.
Nonetheless, it’s something we encourage our kids to do. We ask questions or make statements like, “Why don’t you join the art club so you can find other kids who enjoy art?” or “The kid next door looks about your age, and look! He’s playing basketball; you should go over and meet him.” These encouraging words help our kids by nudging them to explore avenues of shared interest and, hopefully, make new friends at their new school.
New School, New Friends
So your child comes home from his or her new school and asks to either invite a friend over or go to their house. What next?
The first step, of course, is figuring out how to get in touch with the new friend’s parents. It could be that your child asks her new friend for her cell phone number or that you ask your child’s new friend what his dad’s name is so that you can look him up in the school directory. Once you know how to get in touch, there are seven important questions to ask the new friend’s parents before allowing your child to hang out at their house.
Some of these questions may feel awkward, but they don’t have to kick off the conversation. You can take your time getting to know the family, perhaps getting your families together to share a meal or meet for ice cream at a local restaurant. Another idea is to be intentional about showing up to commonly held interests of your child. Is he on the cross country team with this new friend? Show up at the first meet ready to engage with the new friend’s parents.
Or if your child gets invited to a drop-off birthday party, you can always reply, “Sure, he’d love to come. We have a prior commitment that I need to take him to, but could we come for the first hour? I am happy to help you with setup or any other party needs.”
The bottom line is to look for creative ways to get to know the new friend’s parents a little.
Once you’re ready to let your child go to the new friend’s house, it’s important to ask the friend’s parents a few questions. Yes, even if your “child” is a teen. It’s important to ask these questions, no matter how young or old your child is.
7 Questions to Ask Their Parents
1. Will you be at home?
This seems like an “of course” kind of question, right? But you can’t assume anything about how others parent their own kids. Many parents regularly hire babysitters so they can run errands, or they may feel 100% okay leaving their kids with an older sibling or a live-in grandparent. So if you want to ensure that a parent will be there, it’s important to ask this question.
A good follow-up to the question is, “What are you planning to do while the kids hang out/play?” The answers here can vary widely, and it’s up to each parent to decide what they’re comfortable with or not.
2. What are your technology and digital media protocols/rules/guidelines?
Again, you may believe that everyone your child meets in his or her class is similarly minded. But in this smartphone, digital-everything age, that’s just not holding true anymore. You may want to dig deeper with follow-up questions when a parent answers this.
But often, you can tell if they align with your guiding beliefs by the way they answer. This isn’t a place for judgment, just a way to help you make the best possible decisions on behalf of your own children. Additional questions could be things like, “If they are going to play a video game for some of the time, who will oversee that they’re not on it for more than an hour?” or “When they’re choosing a movie, how invovled do you get?”
Other ideas revolve around older siblings, cell phone usage, and any devices that belong to their kids. Many children and teens have their own tablets, laptops, and phones, and it’s important to know how a family regulates these before you give your child or teen free reign in their home. Another helpful — and always recommended — step if you can’t have a lengthy discussion about devices with the parent is to talk to your child.
Make sure they know that the same guidelines apply to their media life at someone else’s house as at home. Discuss with them what they will do in specific situations, how they will handle it if they get negative pushback from their friend, and why it’s important to be honest with you.
3. Are you planning to take the kids/teens anywhere?
This one isn’t always obvious either. But we’ve found that, often, parents think nothing of taking their children and friends to another friend’s house in the neighborhood, letting them walk to the local store or dropping them off at a movie. If these aren’t things you are comfortable with, it’s important to talk about them with the other child’s parents before you let your child hang out there.
4. What should I send with my child?
Assuming your new friends’ family has reassured you with their answers to the first three questions, asking what you can send with your child is a great catch-all question.
It helps the other parent to think through meal times, snacks, money, media, and anything that may not have been covered in a previous question. For example, if you thought ahead and sent your child with a packed lunch but the other parent wants to order pizza instead, you might need to think about budgeting if this is going to be a pattern at that friend’s house.
If you dig deeper with this question, it may also help you get a better idea of what kinds of things their child likes to do. If you’re okay with them playing Minecraft, great. But you might want to know that upfront. Or if you would rather they do something more active, saying so doesn’t mean your child can’t play there. It just lets the other parent know you’re not okay with a hangout time that could have been done 100% virtually since they were just playing video games the whole time.
It can also help you discern what priority education takes in the family home, which isn’t necessarily a make-or-break topic. But it gives you more information on which to base future decisions.
5. What time should I come and get my child?
This one also seems obvious, but — again — it is a question to help you gain understanding about the friend’s family. Are they laid-back and carefree? Do they value timeliness and planning ahead? Are they a very scheduled family with multiple sports and/or children to run to and from various places? This question, especially when asked regularly, will give you a better sense of their family rhythms.
6. Would it be okay if we host the first time they hang out or play?
When your child wants to hang out with someone you don’t know well, it can feel a little nerve-wracking. But why not ask if you can host? Your child’s friends most likely could care less if the house is perfectly clean or that you have a pantry-full of snacks on hand.
Grab a few snacks that your child loves, and let them choose from a few different activities that you and your child decide ahead of time. Once you’ve hosted the other child, you’ll probably hear from your own child or teen if their friend loved it or not. Kids have a way of letting their opinions be known, even if they were taught to be polite.
If you discover that the new friend was bored a lot or didn’t like the food that was offered, it’s not a mark against them. Instead, it helps you discern what they’re used to and then you have more information to make decisions about letting your child hang out at their house.
7. Why don’t I come too for a little bit and we can chat/get to know each other better?
This doesn’t have to be embarrassing for your child. It can be an hour over coffee with your child’s friend’s mom or dad while they play video games, run around in the yard with Nerf guns or sit and chat. Then, if anything sends up a red flag while you’re talking or you see something that causes you alarm, you can always say you have to get going and you’ll schedule a longer time for them to hang out on a different day.
Some helpful conversation topics include homework, work, extracurricular activities such as sports and music, weekend fun, and travel. Talking through these with the mom or dad of your child’s friend will likely give you a well-rounded perspective of how they view the world and give you insight into their parenting style.
This saves your child from the embarrassment of you asking tons of questions over the phone first, but it also allows them a little freedom to hang out with a safety net of sorts. Then, next time, if it goes well, you’ll feel more comfortable saying yes to your child hanging out at the friend’s house.