Teaching Children to Choose Friends Wisely

Posted by Brian Sayers on November 20, 2022
Teaching Children to Choose Friends Wisely
Photo by Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

The Bible teaches that the company we keep brings influence and inevitably shapes our character. Christian parents seeking to be wise in the training of their children have a responsibility to help their children learn how to choose friends wisely.

I hope to introduce why this task should not be neglected, and then how to help children understand and apply the Scriptures in the choosing of their companions.

Why children must be trained

Children are born sinful, naïve, and foolish. The Scripture states emphatically that we are influenced by the people around us. “Do not be deceived: ‘bad company corrupts good morals,’” says 1 Corinthians 15:33. Proverbs 28:7 warns that “the companion of gluttons humiliates his father” (presumably because they will mimic and engage in the same behavior).

“He who walks with wise men shall be wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.”—Proverbs 13:20 NASB

Children unwittingly adopt unsavory character traits and may suffer as a result. “He who walks with wise men shall be wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Proverbs 13:20). “One who is righteous is a guide to his neighbor, but the way of the wicked leads them astray” (12:26). They may also suffer by being taken advantage of (Proverbs 19:6-7; 29:5), or through the fruit of their own sin.

We should be concerned about our children’s well-being even more than our own grief as parents (Proverbs 10:1, 17:25). These striking reasons (and more) remind us how important it is to help our children choose friends wisely.

How to train children

Modern cars are equipped with ABS—Anti-lock Braking Systems. Here are three categories to be understood and applied discerningly to help our children (or anyone) determine if it is time to “pump the brakes” on pursuing a friendship.

Our ABS is composed of attitudes, behaviors, and speech.


An attitude is a pattern of thinking formed over a long period of time. Attitudes can be expressed in words, or often through behavior and body language. What are some attitudinal red flags to be aware of in those with whom we associate?

First, is the person characteristically angry? People who “associate with a man given to anger” will likely “learn his ways” and become angry people themselves (Proverbs 22:24-25). Young people should be warned to avoid them, not only to escape learning their ways, but also so they do not get hurt.

Second, is the person characteristically selfish? A common way children express selfish materialism is being overly enamored with property (they want your toys, bikes, etc.). “Those who love the rich are many” (Proverbs 14:20; cf. 19:4,6-7). The selfish child may become angry if they cannot have their way, or may even be caught stealing something that belongs to your child. Your child can be shown how this person will make a bad friend and cause them loss or hurt.

Third, is the person characteristically lustful? Lust expresses itself through selfishness, gluttony, or impure behavior (which in very young people begins with crass and crude talk). Children should be warned that this is displeasing to God and should be exposed as such (Proverbs 1:10-19; 2:16-17; Ephesians 5:5-11). They should be warned not to be led astray by these children, and to not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but rather expose them (Ephesians 5:11).


Now we will look at common behaviors that help us discern who to pursue friendship with—one positive and one negative characteristic (there could be many others).

The positive trait is asking whether this potential friend is faithful and loyal. “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17; cf. 18:24). True friends are loyal, encourage, guide, help, and strengthen others. These are all qualities that children need to be taught to recognize and seek out. Even young children betray unfaithfulness when they are willing to “play favorites,” be “back-stabbers,” or ignore and make fun when their other friends are around.

Negatively, one can ask and observe if the person is unkind. In young children this attitude might manifest itself as the neighborhood bully who picks on those unable to defend themselves. It may also be the child who always “picks the teams” so that they win (a desire to rule, oppress or be the victor). Or perhaps it will be the child who always changes the rules when someone with “less ability” is about to win. A child who must always have it their way will not make a good companion for others.


The language people use reflects their hearts (Mark 7:14-23). The Bible clearly teaches that slanderers make bad friends. “A slanderer separates intimate friends” (Proverbs 16:28b; cf. 17:9; 20:19). Teach children to be wary of those who are willing to speak poorly about others; they will likely speak poorly of you, too.

The opposite (flattery) isn’t necessarily better. “A man who flatters his neighbor is spreading a net for his steps” (Proverbs 29:5). This passage speaks of false flattery or manipulative compliments intended to serve selfish purposes, not words of genuine kindness and admiration. “Deceitful are the kisses of an enemy” (Proverbs 27:6). This practice of flattery is really a form of deception.

Dishonesty is another red flag for friendships. Those who prove to be deceitful with others will likely deceive you as well, sometimes under the guise of “joking.” Proverbs warns, “Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows and death, so is the man who deceives his neighbor, and says, ‘Was I not joking?’” (Proverbs 26:18-19)

In contrast, friends tell the truth and do not withhold information (see John 15:15). Children should be trained to recognize and befriend those characterized by gracious speech. “He who loves purity of heart, and whose speech is gracious, the king is his friend” (Proverbs 22:11). Friends should be gracious, even when they admonish (Proverbs 27:6).

Some Cautions and Caveats

A few cautions as you help your child be discerning: First, as you train your children, help them avoid pride and self-righteousness. They must be trained to be discerning, while not having a proud and judgmental spirit toward other children. Be watchful and on guard to detect these attitudes in your child.

Second, as you teach these principles, emphasize that your child should strive to be a God-honoring friend and companion by exhibiting these character traits (or avoiding them, as the case may be). The truth must be applied to their own hearts first.

And finally, these principles do not mean we should not be friends with any unbelievers. The Apostle Paul says, “Let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Galatians 6:10). This admonishment assumes that we will have associates outside the family of God. The standard situation is avoiding the influences of sin for all the obvious reasons, while also seeking to love those who need Christ.

Parents, I hope you see the importance of nurturing hearts and minds to see the wisdom of these principles, and the blessing that it will be for life to build them into your children as best as you can. It never goes perfectly according to your plan or desire, so strive to prayerfully trust in the Lord and depend on Him for the discernment and grace to lead and train your children humbly.

Brian Sayers

Brian is the Pastor of Counseling & Equipping at Faith Bible Church. He is passionate about the local church, and equipping the saints to effectively serve one another. Before coming to Spokane, he spent 14 years serving God's people as a pastor in rural New England (Vermont & New Hampshire).

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