As kids choose friends, they look for everything from shared interests, understanding and acceptance to excitement and leadership. They may choose kids you like and kids you’re not so sure about. And like it or not, frequently your children will see friends as even more important than family.

It’s easy to worry about the friends your kids make and the influence those friends wield. So, how do you maintain a relationship with your teenagers and establish relationships with their friends? Above all, how do you help your children choose good friends?

While friends have a lot of influence in our kids’ lives, moms and dads remain important, according to Search Institute. Even high schoolers say their parents have a lot of influence in their lives.

Here are some ideas that will help you influence your child’s friendships and get to know his friends.

Welcome friends. Make your home a place where your children’s friends like to hang out. (Snacks and soft drinks in the fridge always help!) Get to know them while they’re relaxed and open to conversation.

Ask inviting questions. Find out what your children’s friends enjoy. Learn what your children like about their friends and families, then point out what you like.

Encourage diverse friendships. Encourage your children to get to know kids from many different backgrounds and perspectives. It will help them learn more about themselves and appreciate the rich diversity of society.

Monitor friendships. Keep tabs on the friends your children spend a lot of time with. Avoid criticizing friendships that seem negative, but be honest when you’re concerned. Remember, your children can be a positive influence on other kids who are struggling.

Stay calm. If you have concerns, express them calmly and openly. Listen closely to your children’s perspective before rushing to judgment.

Set limits. Even if your children want to spend all their time hanging out with friends, set a clear expectation that they regularly spend time at home with family too.

Protect health and safety. Some potential friends may be dangerous to your children, and they may not recognize that. These include kids who smoke, drink or use illegal drugs. Be explicit that your child is not to hang out with these friends, and help him develop skills and strategies to refuse those things that are offered. For example, encourage simple, direct rebuffs, such as, “I don’t do that stuff,” or, “No, thanks. I’m good.”

Keep perspective. Children and teenagers will “try out” a wide variety of friends. Some of those short friendships may make you nervous, but they are a normal part of growing up. Talking with your children about their friends and values will help them develop the skills to evaluate friendships and focus on strengthening the healthy ones.

Find support. Get to know the parents or guardians of your children’s friends. You’ll often find they share your values and priorities, and you can work together to ensure the friendship is positive for everyone.

Reprinted with permission from Search Institute®. Copyright © 2005 by Search Institute, Minneapolis, MN; 800-888-7828; All rights reserved.

What ideas do you have for getting to know your child’s friends better and influencing his or her choice of friends?