If keeping them apart is unlikely, I don’t know how you will keep this girl from influencing your 9-year-old. What you can do is teach your child right from wrong (as simple as this sounds, it is easier said than done).
Research shows that the pressure to behave like someone else comes most often from wanting to be accepted, wanting to belong, and wanting to be noticed. Help your child learn what qualities to look for in a friend, and advise him/her about what to say if the negative peer is trying to get your child to misbehave in some way. Children who have difficulty making friends need your support to avoid being isolated or bullied.
Your child may not always know which situations could have harmful consequences. Start talking with your child about these dangers early, and prepare him/her for the moment when you’re not there and he has to make a choice about behavior or misbehavior.
You also need to discuss the dangers of being around others who make risky choices. You can help your child learn how to recognize and back away from situations that could have harmful consequences. For example, discuss with her how to say no if someone offers her alcohol, tobacco, or drugs at a party. (Yes…even 9-year-olds experiment with drugs/alcohol.)
Role play with your child so that he/she can practice saying “no” to things that are harmful or against the rules. For example, pretend to offer your child a drink or a cigarette. Let your child take a turn being the person who suggests something that isn't safe. Then, have fun thinking of different ways to say no.
Repeat role-playing at different ages and stages of your child’s development. A 9-year-old may find it easy to turn down alcohol; a 15-year-old may be more curious—or more reluctant to act differently if others are drinking.
Make sure your child is comfortable with what he/she wants to say. Coach him/her to use his/her own words and expressions. For instance, a shy child might simply say, “I gotta go” and then quickly walk away. A more confident child might say, “What? Are you talking to me? Forget it!” Children who have trouble refusing offers from other kids may need extra practice in giving a strong, believable reason for backing away from a situation that they think could be dangerous.
Here are a few examples of “conversation starters” to use with your child:
- Do you find it easy to speak up about what you like and don’t like? Among friends? With strangers?
- If you had a friend who was stuck at a party with people drinking or using drugs, what advice would you give him?
- What do you look for in a friend?
- When is taking a risk a good thing? When is it bad?
I trust this will help,
Mark Hutten, M.A.