All parents want their children to have friends.
They want them to be happy and content, to do their best and to reach their potential.
At least, that’s what we think we want.
Yes, they should be happy and have friends, but only if we approve of those friends. In other words, we don’t want them to fall in with the wrong crowd.
Our fear of losing our children to a gang of knife-wielding, heroin-ingesting ne’er do wells can be all-encompassing, even in the reception class at the local infants’ school.
Where are those nice Blue Peter-watching children who collect stamps when you need them?
Positive influences were around me when I was growing up. Not only was I encouraged to watch Blue Peter twice a week, but I had a tendency to forge unlikely friendships with slightly odd children who could recognise a car by its hub caps and smelt of peanut butter.
This wasn’t good for my overall image at school and ranking in the inevitable playground hierarchy, but I didn’t really aspire to the heady heights of ‘top girl’ which gave you a free pass to the art cupboard and a peck on the cheek with ‘top boy’ Gavin Robinson.
At secondary school I was certainly not in with the cool girls, those that smoked in the sixth form common room (it was allowed back then!) and were probably doing more than just pecking Gavin Robinson on the cheek.
Thankfully I fell in with a group of girls who, although not cool, were interesting, fun and were not adverse to the occasional slug of illicit cheap cider on a Friday night.
At the start of this school term my son made friends with a new boy. He has been much happier at school as a result so I was happy.
However, at the last parents’ evening I discovered that this new friend was described as ‘feisty’ and that he ‘needs to calm down a bit’. So maybe not such a great influence for my son who already struggles to concentrate at school.
Parents probably want to believe that those around their children can’t truly influence them, and that as long as they are swathed in love and literature at home, whoever they come across in the school playground will have little or no effect on them.
But recently I had first-hand proof that who you hang around with does influence your behaviour.
The other weekend we had a rare visit from my husband’s aunt, who just happens to be a Protestant nun.
She arrived at Fratton in full nun regalia (ie habit and dangly cross) and proceeded to enjoy a day with us.
Although an 81-year-old nun, she is a lot of fun to have to visit, but I still felt the need to ensure the children kept their wee and poo jokes to a minimum.
Thankfully, the influence of a black and white habit did the trick and the children acted flawlessly.
In fact, they were odiously polite and helpful, and even collected up used crockery without being asked. They engaged her in conversation and there was nothing lavatorial about it.
The moral of this tale? If you want your children to behave politely, join a convent.