What You Should Do When Your Teen is Hanging Out with Kids You Don’t Like
Your son brings home his new friend, but the kid’s bad attitude turns you off immediately. Your daughter is suddenly hanging out with a girl who has multiple body piercings and a tattoo. The way your teen’s friend talks makes you cringe. What should you do when your teen is hanging out with kids you just don’t like?
Kids can wear weird clothes and pierce their lips, and still be nice kids. Before you rush to judgment, take a deep breath and try to understand first. Teens pick friends to satisfy some need they have; so, there is likely a good reason why your teen is hanging out with this particular crowd. Sometimes teens hang out with other teens because of their social status at school, similar character traits, similar interests, or perhaps admiration for the way they handle themselves. Talk to your teen and ask questions that will help you understand the friendship, such as what works in the friendship, what things they do together for fun, or what they most like about their friend. Asking your teen questions about what’s good about their friendship will not only help you understand the friendship but will also get your teen thinking about their friend. You may help your teen realize the friendship is bad without creating a power struggle between you.
Developmentally, teens are trying to establish their identity and become their own person distinct from their parents. Their friendships are a key part of that process, so criticizing their friends is just like criticizing an aspect of your child. A teen’s natural inclination is to defend his/her friends. Regardless of whether what you say is true or not, any critical statements will be met with hostility and will hurt your own relationship with them. The best thing a parent can do is avoid critical statements, ask questions that might get your teen to arrive at a good decision for themselves, and monitor their behavior.
While stating “your friends are no good” is a critical statement to be avoided at all costs, you can, and should, comment on behaviors to help guide your teen toward better choices. For example, you could say:
- “I’ve heard that John smokes pot and gets into a lot of trouble. Is that true? I hope you realize how bad smoking pot is and how it can negatively affect your life.”
- “I heard that Susan was arrested for shoplifting. How do you feel about that? Do you realize that getting arrested now, will stay on your record into adulthood and impact your ability to get a job?”
- “Sometimes it appears to me that Luke doesn’t treat you with the same amount of respect that you give him. Do you feel that he is a supportive friend?”
Remind your child that your job is to keep your teen safe and protected, and you want to help them. If your teen decides on his/her own to end the relationship, recognize that it will be easiest on your child to phase out the friendship rather than announcing a dramatic end.
You should adjust your family’s rules as your teen matures. First, make sure that your rules are age appropriate. What worked when your child was ten, does not work for your 14-year-old, and sometimes, teens will “act out” in frustration. Let your teen have input into some of the rules to let them feel part of the process and have some ownership of them. Second, if you know your child or your child’s friends are engaging in behavior that isn’t in line with your values, then adjust your rules to address that behavior and create appropriate consequences for breaking the rules. It’s important to understand that punishment is not the goal in a parent’s discipline, but rather providing a lesson. You must see the consequence through in order to see behavior change.
If you really feel that your teen’s friends are a negative influence, then schedule other activities for your teen, especially during times that they are more prone to undesirable behavior, such as afterschool if they are home alone. Suggest activities that will interest him/her and that offer the opportunity to make new friends with similar interests. You might be able to gently cut out the bad friends if your teen becomes interested in a different crowd.
When it comes to our children’s social lives, it’s important to let your teen choose his or her own friends. This process actually helps your teen’s development by helping him/her learn how to navigate social situations, which will be critically important, as he grows older. As long as there is no immediate harm to your teen, teaching your child how to tell good friends from bad ones will keep you better connected to your child, help them to think for themselves, and encourage them to make better decisions. However, you can set guidelines or rules to make sure that he/she stays safe and doesn’t get into trouble. And, you can set your teen up for success by building their self-esteem at every opportunity so that he/she will be better able to resist negative peer pressure.