Today’s world is saturated with social media and people are sharing information in a public way that used to be reserved for trusted friends. We taught our children about four levels of friendship and what was appropriate to share at each level. Friendships develop with time, shared experiences, and trust being built. Friendships progress from the acquaintance level to casual friends to close friends, and some relationships go on to be intimate. Do your children know what is appropriate to share in a public forum vs. what should only be shared in private conversations with close friends?
Acquaintances: At the acquaintance level, two people recognize each other and greet one another in public. They know the other person’s name and have a sense, “I know you from some place and time.” Their conversations are limited to public information. They ask appropriate questions that reflect interest and acceptance. They listen to responses and remind themselves of the interest God has for the other. Because of this last item, conversation, whether in person or about that person, should be life-giving and focused on the positive.
Casual friends: As they ask appropriate questions regarding each other’s interests and share some common activities and experiences, the relationship moves to a casual friendship. This is a good time to discover each other’s strengths, to learn about their hopes and dreams, to be honest about faults, and to show interest in the other person’s problems.
Close friends: Casual friendships grow to close friendships as friends spend more time together in mutually enjoyed activities. They are a part of each other’s lives and know more about one another’s goals, trials, and dreams. They look for ways to discover, discuss, and help develop these goals. These friends are alert to Scripture that would encourage or guide one another, and they share it. These friends probably have similar personal standards that have been revealed with time and shared experiences. It is interesting to note that with children, close friendships mean spending time together. When someone moves away or becomes more involved in activities your child is not involved in, the closeness may not be sustained. We had a goal in our family that siblings would be close friends. Today as adults, they are close friends and have enlarged that circle to include their spouses.
Intimate friends: The last friendship level is the intimate friendship. Generally, we don’t have many friends at this deeper level which is characterized by shared secrets. Here we give comfort in trials and sorrows, assume personal responsibility for the other’s reputation, and are sensitive to character issues and discretely share them with possible solutions. The friendship is two-way in this sharing and is committed to faithfulness, loyalty, and availability. Usually this friendship has been strengthened with trust and longevity. Jesus had three intimate friends: Peter, James, and John. Together they experienced things that were beyond what the close friends shared (the other disciples, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus). This is the type of friendship we set before our children to desire in marriage.
Just as there are appropriate things to discuss at each friendship level, there are also topics and behaviors that should be limited until the friendship progresses to a deeper level. For instance, acquaintance friends don’t ask nosy questions about situations that they are not a part of. Casual friends meet in public places, or in groups if they are of the opposite gender. By the time close friendships develop, there is probably a sense of spiritually equal yokes. Just because a friendship is at a casual level, does not mean that it can’t develop into a closer or intimate friendship, but friends are still exploring common interests, goals, spiritual ground, and standards. We encouraged our children to keep casual friendships public as a protection for both people. In a public setting, we are often more careful about what we share and guard personal and private information. The group also helps conversations stay appropriate. For young children, this means having doors open and playing in family areas so that parents can walk by and observe the activities and conversations.
We had conversations with our preschool and grade school age children about what constitutes public information and what should not be shared. Some of those, “Don’t share outside our family” conversations included:
- how much money we have
- whether they are home alone
- if, when, and how a sibling is receiving correction
- someone else’s surprise news
Unless you have these conversations with your children, you may find your private family information shared publicly and prematurely to your embarrassment, shame, or harm.
In an age where social media friendships continue to captivate and possibly squander people’s time, some boundaries might be helpful in this area too. Social media is open to acquaintances and casual friends as well as closer friends, but it is a public conversation without the protection that “the group” provides in person. The broader circle guides what we share. Do you monitor your posts and conversations, and teach your children to share, based on Philippians 4:8: whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy? Ephesians 4:29 also directs us to use self-control with all unwholesome talk, and instead focus only on what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Unless we discuss these things with our children, and hold ourselves to the Biblical standard, the culture is more than willing to train our children in ways that are less than these.
Enjoy the people your encounter on the journey of life. No matter what level of friendship you find yourself in with someone, the qualities of love, patience, and kindness are always profitable and life-giving.