Chances are your teen’s friends are pretty important to them (Understatement of the year?).
As kids grow into teenagers, friendships become increasingly vital, and all they to want to do is hang out with their buddies. Not to mention, the more they spend time with their friends, the less they seem to want to do so with you.
It can be tough as a parent to let go. It can be even tougher when you think about the tremendous impact these peers have on your kid’s attitudes, behavior, and beliefs.
Are they a kind-hearted group of pals? Do they respect adults and have good values? Will they encourage my teen to drink or take drugs? How can I make sure my child makes good choices when she is with her friends?
There are several key strategies to implement to best monitor and interact with your teen’s friendships. In our previous article, we discussed the importance of early steps like personally getting to know friends, exchanging phone numbers with both friends and their parents, and helping friends in times of need even when your child is not directly involved.
While these tips will all help build a successful bond with these pals—thereby strengthening your relationship with your teen as well—and help avert potentially dangerous situations, there is more you can do to keep your teen safe, having fun, and out of trouble.
Even if that means keeping her safe from certain “friends” and their influence.
As your teen starts spending more and more time out of the house with her friends, it is important to maintain a balance between overseeing safety and allowing autonomy. Until circumstances require otherwise, find that effective middle ground between overbearingly cautious and ignorantly laissez-faire.
Always be aware of your kid’s general plans when she is out—where she’ll be, what time she’ll be home. Know who she’s with, especially if it includes new friends who you have not been well acquainted with yet.
As we’ve recommended before, a great strategy to promote good behavior in teens is to give them the opportunity to gain a little bit more freedom by demonstrating responsibility. One approach is to allow your teen to alter his plans while he is out so long as he calls or texts to notify you first. For example, perhaps he and his group suddenly decide to go roller skating after their initial dinner plans, which will keep him out later than he originally thought.
Ultimately, it is your decision and you can always say no—simply telling you what’s going on doesn’t give your teen unbridled free reign—but generally permit these new plans. For most teenagers, if you show that you trust and respect them, they’ll be significantly more likely to want to uphold that trust by making good choices.
Should your teen demonstrate that she can’t handle this freedom or takes advantage of it, explain to her that she is not ready and revert to a more rigid system. Similarly, if you have suspicions that your teen is not is telling the truth about her plans but don’t have concrete evidence or are wary of a certain friend that was mentioned, go check out the scene for yourself.
Did your teen say she’s spending the night at a friend’s house? Drive by on your own to see if her car is there. Is she going with a group to the movies? You might as well catch a flick at a similar time and check if you see them in the lobby.
This isn’t the time to bust out your spy moves or wear a disguise. Don’t suddenly jump behind a bush to avoid being seen or pretend you totally forgot she and her friends were planning to be there if they come to talk to you.
Be casual. Act like—or better yet, actually have—errands or other business in the area and are not purely there to check up on them. Teenagers will not respond well if you seem like you do not trust them, especially when you claimed to trust them previously.
What about those friends of your teen that you just don’t care for (whether you simply aren’t fond of their personalities or are legitimately worried about their influence on your child)? How should you handle those cases?
First, still behave toward these friends in person the same as you would any other. Treat them kindly and talk to them when you have a chance. Even if they are your complete opposite and you cannot fathom what your teen sees in them, try to find just one thing you have in common.
Be extremely careful in openly criticizing friends or labeling them a “bad kid,” which can be one of the quickest ways to infuriate your teen. And never outright say you don’t like one of them.
Many teenagers are very protective of their friends, and an attack on a buddy is viewed as an attack on themselves. Not only that, but your teen will likely interpret your comments as a condemnation of his social skills, of his judge of character and ability to distinguish and attract quality people. Conversely, it might cause him to doubt you and think you unfairly judgmental.
However, there may be kids who are legitimately negative influences upon your child’s life, and it would be best if your teen spent less time with these individuals. They might encourage illegal and/or unsafe behavior, or perhaps they emotionally harm your teen, taking advantage of him or lowering his self-esteem. You can’t stand idly by but must manage the situation deftly so that you do not alienate your teen in the process.
First of all, banning a friendship or forbidding your teen from seeing his pal(s) is risky and should only be considered in circumstances that truly endanger the physical safety or emotional well-being of your child. More than likely, this action will infuriate your kid and cause him to seek out these friends more often due to rebellious spite or fear of losing them.
Instead, adopt the following strategies, which together should limit or cease a bad friend’s power over your child. The first is to focus on your teen and her behavior, regardless of a friend’s involvement.
Talk to her about her actions that you disapprove of and clearly establish and enact consequences when your expectations are not met. Eventually—perhaps subconsciously—an equation will take root in her head:
This negative reinforcement will lead her to spend less time with that friend or greatly alter her behavior when with him.
The second approach more directly addresses an unfavorable friend but still without “attacking” him in the eyes of your teen. More so, the goal is to have your kid conclude on her own that said person is not a good presence in her life.
Have a conversation with your teen about friendship, asking her what she thinks makes someone a good and bad friend. Share your own opinions on these categories as well. She’ll likely reference her own experience regarding the matter, but if not, ask your kid what friends of hers exemplify these qualities.
Do certain buddies consistently live up to her and/or your characterization of a good friend? Are there those who do not meet these expectations and do or say things that place them on the negative side?
Your teen may come to some startling revelations about a friend or two when she takes the time to truly think about it, especially if those pals fail her personal definition of a good friend.
When you do need to discuss a particular friend, subtly reveal your concerns while figuring out how your teen feels about that individual. Acknowledge that you might not know the whole story.
Ask what your kid sees in a certain pal about whom you are skeptical. Say something along the lines of, “Hey, it seems like Chris gets in trouble a lot and sometimes bosses you around. Help me understand: What do you see in him?”
Maybe you’ll learn about a side of Chris not obvious when he’s in your company, or that he is currently going through a family crisis or other issue which is affecting his behavior.
Conversely, your teen might struggle to come up with an answer or only respond with something incredibly minimal like “he’s funny.” In the latter case, press on: “Okay, that’s great, but is there more to it than that? Is he _____ (kind, trustworthy, does he always have your back, etc.—whatever important quality you want to address)?”
Don’t force your teen to give up that friend immediately or keep pushing him if he’s clearly getting frustrated with your questioning. What’s important is simply planting that little seed of concern.
It might not mean much right away, but even if teenagers won’t admit it or realize it themselves, their parents’ opinions matter a great deal, and your periodic comments will get your teen thinking. He will likely start noticing the aspects of his friend you addressed even though he never had before:
“Huh, Mom was right; Paul really doesn’t seem to value my opinion,” or “Wow, I do end up in situations I’m uncomfortable in a lot when I hang with Sarah.”
With time and subtle encouragement, your teen will start to limit his time with that friend or gradually phase her out altogether.
At the end of the day, you must also remember that many friends will not easily be summed up as the perfect “good friend” who never gets in trouble or fights with your teen or as the trouble-making bully of a “bad friend” that needs to go. Teens are teens, people are people, and most will fall in the grey area in between.
Friends sometimes argue and hurt each other’s feelings. Good-hearted kids make mistakes and sometimes drink. It doesn’t mean they are automatically a horrendous presence in your teen’s life that must be removed.
Approach each incident individually at first but notice trends. Give second chances but trust your instincts. You’ll know in your gut when a friend is a little rough around the edges but alright at heart versus a truly negative influence.
Finally, remind your kid that her true friends will respect her choices and stand by her side even if they are different from their own, and she does not need to choose between drinking and having a social life. Teach your teen the skills to resist peer pressure and how to handle herself in a situation where drinking, drug use, or other risky behaviors are present.
Be available, be compassionate, be concerned and adamant when you need to be.
Be a confidant, be a source of guidance, be a parent.
It’s not always easy but if you keep this all in mind and your eyes open, you can navigate through the fascinating world of teenage friendships.
* * *
By Tyler Wroblewski
Click here for Part 1 of “New Friends and Old Pals: How to Handle & Interact with Your Teen’s Friends (Even the “Bad” Ones)”
Friends Walking Away: From Skinny Casual Lover at https://www.flickr.com/photos/136920307@N06/28884337216
Smoking Woman: From Valentin Ottone at https://www.flickr.com/photos/saneboy/3050003040
Teen Texting: From Carissa Rogers at https://www.flickr.com/photos/goodncrazy/8466275231
Driving in Car: From Timo Newton-Syms at https://www.flickr.com/photos/timo_w2s/305245555
Disguised Dad: From Jeff Turner at https://www.flickr.com/photos/respres/2468996828
Smoking Teen Boy: From https://pixabay.com/p-484090/?no_redirect
Thought Bubble: Original image from https://pixabay.com/p-305444/?no_redirect. Text added by author.
Group of Friends: From David Amsler, www.flickr.com/photos/amslerpix
Teen Boy Sitting Outside: From https://pixabay.com/p-1098665/?no_redirect
Teen Girl Thinking: From Petr Kratochvil [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Line of Friends: From Vaibhav Sharan (https://www.flickr.com/photos/vibhu000/7279793602) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Friends Looking Up: From hepingting (CB106492) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons