MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on July 8th, 2013, 0 Comments

How to Deal with Your Teen’s “Bad News” Friends

With one quick snip of the electric clippers Claire made Alex’s friend Skylar disappear. And by that same afternoon Alex’s initial fury at her mom had morphed into gratitude. If only real life were so straightforward.

But, it’s not. In fact, the clearest finding from last week’s polling suggests that our real life teens are totally unpredictable when it comes to how they might respond if we interfere with their friendships. Yet “their friends” are often at the top of the list of things we moms worry about. If we’re not worrying that they’re being harmed by undesirable friends, than we’re worrying that they’re being left out and don’t have friends.

We worry for a reason: Our teens’ friends are important. In truth, friends are important to kids of all ages. But teens see being accepted and liked by their peers as a matter of survival. Their sense that they’re okay, hinges on how well they feel that they fit in with other kids their own age. So when we can’t imagine why our teens might choose to hang out with certain kids, it can help to remind ourselves of the benefits those kids may be providing our teens.

Still when our teens have friends that we don’t like, it’s tempting to tell them plainly that we don’t like these friends (like Claire did) and even forbid them from being together. But such controlling tactics often backfire with teens. In fact, prohibiting a friendship is more likely to push our teens into a closer friendship than it is to end it.

Saying nothing about our worries and observations, though, can make us feel like we’re abandoning our responsibility as a parent. And even if we’re careful to say nothing, our teens take in our body language and are bound to know how we feel about their friends.

Thus, we’re at our best when we take a collaborative approach – reassuring our teens that they have a right to choose their own friends while finding a way to keep the conversations going and to reinforce our family values.

Make time to be available and just listen. Listening conveys your interest in your teen and their perspective while giving you a chance to learn more about them and their social lives. By quietly listening, you’re also giving your teen a chance to use you as a sounding board – so that they can learn more about their own feelings.

Do some careful probing. Ask questions that show your interest in learning more about your teen’s friends without being judgmental or trying to control their relationships. For example, you might ask what kind of activities the friend enjoys doing or what your teen enjoys doing with the friend. This type of questioning can help you get a clearer picture of your teen’s perspective and how they see things.

Make your points. When it’s your turn to talk, share observations about things you’ve noticed – especially the things you’ve noticed that are different about your teen since they’ve been hanging out with a new friend or group of friends. For example, if your teen doesn’t seem as happy or respectful or as interested in former activities or to care as much about school, mention that. And remind your teen of your family’s values and the rules based on those values. (Click here to read more about rules.)

Hold-off on giving uninvited suggestions. We have only a small window into their social lives and our teens know that. So they’re likely to see our unsolicited advice as unhelpful and any response is likely to be of the “Just forget it, Mom,” variety. Instead it’s wiser to make your points – your observations about them and your reminders about your family values. Then be patient, and let your teen connect the points for themselves – like they’d connect the dots of a dot-to-dot puzzle. This can sometimes take weeks even months. But if you let your teen connect the dots for themselves, they’re more likely to take your input into account and to stay connected with you.

And while you give your teen time to connect the dots, consider opening your home (or better yet a small space in it) to their friends. Yes, this will mean more work for you, but it will give you a chance to get to know their friends and see the effect of their influence on your teen first hand. Plus you’ll get the peace of mind that comes from knowing where your teen is and what they’re doing.

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