Can You Change Who Your Teen Is Friends With?

What should you do when your teen is hanging out with kids you just don’t like? Maybe your daughter brings home a new friend, but the kid’s bad attitude turns you off immediately. Perhaps your son is suddenly hanging out with a group of teens who have multiple body piercings and tattoos. The way your teen’s friend talks makes you cringe. Can you change their friends? The short answer is no. Your teen can pick and choose their friends, and you don’t get veto power. However, there are some ways that you can influence who your teen chooses. Read on to find out how to use your parental influence to improve the chances your teens chooses a great group of friends.

Discuss Healthy Relationships

Talk to your children (hopefully start when they are younger and continue the conversation into their adolescence) about what constitutes healthy relationships, whether that’s a dating partner or a friend. Let your teen know that a true friend is honest, supportive, compassionate, loyal, trustworthy, interesting, accepting, willing to compromise and forgiving. True friends do not stab you in the back, act like you’re stupid or boring, gossip about you, leave you out of social gatherings, lie to you, threaten you, try to manipulate you if you don’t do something their way, or try to change who you are. A good rule of thumb is to consider how you feel after an interaction with a friend – do you feel better or worse about yourself? If your teen has a good understanding of what real friendship looks like, then they are likely to choose friends that match their values.

Be Open-Minded

Don’t rush to judgment. Teens can wear weird clothes and pierce their lips, and still be nice kids. Take a deep breath and try to understand the friendship 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 relationship, such as what works in the friendship, what things they do together for fun, or what they most like about their friend.

If you still think the friendship is not a great one, then ask yourself what your teen’s motives for choosing these kids might be. They are friends for a reason, so understanding the ‘why’ might help you figure out how to handle the situation. You can also ask your teen open-ended questions about what they value in their friends, which should get your teen thinking about their choices. You might help your teen realize a friendship is bad on their own without creating a power struggle between you.

Avoid Criticism

We must accept that we can’t control who our kids choose as friends. The more we criticize their choices, the more we become the enemy. It kills any influence we may have had. Developmentally, teens are trying to establish their identity and become their own person distinct from their family. 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 their friends. Regardless of whether what you say is true or not, any critical statements will be met with hostility, hurt your own relationship with them, and subtly communicate that you don’t trust 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 your teen’s behavior.

Monitor Behavior

If you notice your teen engaging in poor behavior after hanging out with a new group of peers, do not announce “your friends are no good.” You might want to believe it’s the “bad” kids that are leading your teen down the wrong path, but the truth is, there are no “bad kids” — only reasons that kids make poor choices. Focus on determining the reasons behind your teen’s behavior changes. Don’t assume that a new behavior is related to a bad friend – there could be other underlying issues going on in your teen’s life.  If you suspect your teen’s behavior changes are related to new friends, then comment on them in a way that guides your teen towards better choices. Do not bad mouth their friends. Instead, you might ask your teen how they feel about certain behaviors you notice. You might say, “I’ve heard John smokes. How do you feel about that?” or “I’m not with you all the time, but sometimes it seems like Sally doesn’t treat you very nicely. Do you feel like she is a supportive friend?”

Adjust Rules

While you can’t control your teenager’s choice of friends, you can be clear about your expectations and rules while they’re living in your home. Regardless of who their friends are, you should have limits and boundaries for your teen’s behavior. First, make sure that your rules are age appropriate. The same rules will not work for an 11-year-old, 14-year-old and 17-year-old. Sometimes, teens will “act out” in frustration when their freedom is too inhibited. Let your teen have input into some of the rules so they 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 discipline, but rather providing a lesson, so make sure the penalty matches the infraction or is a logical consequence of an action your teen undertook. You must consistently follow through with the consequence in order to see behavior change.

Inspire Alternatives

If you really feel that your teen’s friends are a negative influence, then try encouraging other activities for your teen, especially during times that they are more prone to undesirable behavior, such as after school if they are home alone. Suggest activities that will truly interest them 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 through a new common interest.

Assess Your Home

Take a hard look at your family life and make sure that it’s a place that a teen would want to be. Is your home safe, loving and fun? Your adolescent must feel accepted in their own home to want to be there. Make sure you listen and seek to understand your teen, be curious about their interests, and meet their need for belonging. Strong familial relationships and a belief that parents will love them no matter what is the best way to help your teenager get through a rocky path.

Final Thoughts…

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 teaching them how to navigate social situations, which will be critically important as they grow 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 expectations, guidelines or rules to make sure that they stay safe and don’t get into trouble.

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