When You Don’t Like Your Teen’s Friend
My mother used to say, “You can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your relatives!” My friends’ mothers said the same. Unfortunately, no one warned us that this didn’t include our children’s friends. My adult friends and I began picking our kids’ companions when they were toddlers. These young playmates were usually the kids of our own friends, or the kids of the other mommies in the neighborhood.
Things were simple then. If you didn’t like how certain children behaved, you didn’t invite them over. I vividly recall one Cub Scout outing where a 7-year-old tried to poke my son’s eye out with a piece of sharpened slate. That was the end of that relationship.
Teens’ friends are another story. They are private territory and off-limits to parents, or so say many teens.
So, what do you do when you’re not exactly thrilled with the new friend?
The first thing to do is to be honest about why you don’t like the new friend. Is he sporting a nose ring? Does she talk in two-word sentences? Is he flunking math? Maybe you just don’t like her, and you can’t put your finger on it. Are there legitimate reasons, such as drug abuse or the way this person treats your teen?
Keep in mind that forbidding a friendship can make things worse, and chemistry is not something you can easily predict or manipulate.
Get to know the friend
It’s best to get to know your teen’s friends rather than making an instant character assessment. With younger teens, offer to drive them places and listen to their conversations. Invite your teen’s friends over for dinner. Instead of grilling them about their grades, sit down and talk with them about their interests. You can learn a lot about a person if you’re able to engage him in a lengthy conversation.
Talk with your teen about your concerns
If you still have concerns, it’s time to broach the subject with your teen. Sylvia LaFair, a psychologist and author of Don’t Bring It to Work: Breaking the Family Patterns that Limit Success (Jossey-Bass, 2009), says, “The best way for parents to approach their teen if there is concern about a new friendship or new group of friends is directly.”
She advises that parents ask questions such as, “How can we work together to minimize my concerns?” Keep the dialogue going until your teen begins to open up. “You will get more information when you talk together than if you give finger-pointing directives,” she explains.
LaFaire warns that parents need to put their foot down if they feel their teen is in danger because of a new set of friends.
“If you feel there is serious danger with your teen and questionable friends, it’s time to take a stand. Would you let your 2-year-old walk into traffic? Get serious with your teen, and let him know why certain dangerous friends are off-limits,” LaFaire says.
Myrna Beth Haskell is the mother of two teens. She has written about parenting, family issues and children’s health for 12 years.
Dos and Don’ts for Assessing Teens’ Friends:
* Do observe his attitude toward adults.
* Don’t look at her appearance alone.
* Do look for signs of drug or alcohol abuse.
* Don’t hover when friends come over — you want them to come back!
* Do stick around if a friend of the opposite sex is over.
* Don’t directly attack the friends, which will put your teen on the defensive. Ask him nonjudgmental, open-ended questions to keep the dialogue open.
* Do talk to your teen about what makes a “good” friend.
Tips and Tales From Other Parents
“I would suggest that parents be really honest about their own friendship issues and pray that their teen learns from their own mistakes!
— Gene Sottile , Light House Point, Fla.
“I’ve always had a great radar system. I’m honest and tell my daughters upfront if my radar senses something’s wrong. I try not to be too negative.”
— Judy Burns, Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
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