Earlier this week we said that one way to see where your children are heading in life is to look at their friends and the people who influence them. Your closest friends are a preview of the future you.

Now, I totally understand that will cause some of us to worry. Not that we need another reason to worry–many of us hardly have difficulty finding reasons to panic. But read on…help is closer than you think.

If you’re worrying, what do you do? After all, there’s an organic quality to friendship that you just can’t manage. As much as parents love to control things, we can’t really influence who our child likes.

So what can you do to encourage your child to move in a different direction relationally? The younger they are, the more influence you have on their relational circle. But one day our kids will be on their own and 100 percent able to choose who they hang out with. What do you do between the toddler and college years that’s healthy and not overbearing?

Here are a few suggestions:

Have an honest conversation. It’s not unreasonable or overbearing to talk to your kids in their early elementary years (and every few years after that) about the importance of their friends and how they impact the quality and direction of their life.

Create conditions. You can’t control a child’s every moment as they move into the teen years (nor should you try to), but you can create conditions for healthy relationships. Create stricter limits (tighter curfews and parameters) when the friends they are hanging out with are questionable, and freer permissions when they are with kids who exercise better choices is a fair strategy. It’s probably more important to be generous with the “good” influences than it is to be especially punitive with the questionable influences.

Widen the circle. There are at least two ways to help broaden the positive relationships in your child or teens’ life:

Small Group. Many churches offer Small Groups for kids that provide a consistent group of peers who know each other and are moving in a good direction. The kids in their group may or may not become their best friends, but their influence can be powerful nonetheless.

Another Adult Saying the Same Things You Would Say. In addition to a Small Group Leader, you might consider inviting other adults into your child’s life. A few days ago, I met a woman named Vicki who noticed numerous girls in the 7th grade who needed more than just the influence of a Small Group Leader. So she decided to ask the girls’ parents for permission to hang out with them more regularly. She started attending their games, went out trick-or-treating with them and started tracking with them on Facebook.

The result? They loved her influence so much that when Vicki ended up moving across the country recently for a new job, the kids made her promise she would keep in touch and even do a regular Skype Bible study with them. Now that’s influence.

Two questions to wrap up. First, do you think you could be a Vicki in someone’s life?  Seriously. Who do you know who’s looking for guidance?

Second, what would you add to this list? What other healthy ways have you seen to help steer your kids into relationships that nurture them in what matters most?