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When Your Teen Chooses the Wrong Friends

Telling your teenager what friends they will or will not hang around is very tempting.  How wonderful life would be if we could pick our teen’s friends.  Okay, pinch yourself and stop dreaming.  Although out of fear you may want to force them to stop hanging with certain friends, you’ll find that in the end, you have only encouraged them to become more rebellious and, in turn, sent them running directly to the friends you disliked.

Instead of fighting with your teen about who they choose as their friends, help them build their confidence and strength to stand alone on their principles based on what they believe to be right.  Find non-intrusive ways to open the door to communicating with your teen about your concerns regarding their choice of friends.  But, whatever you do, remember to remain open-minded about their choices, even if you disagree.  If you truly want to influence the friends they have chosen to hang around, why not start by being the best one they have.

BUT: His/Her Friends Engage in Self-Destructive Behavior and Activities!

Okay, it gets ugly!  They are hanging around girls or guys that drink, use drugs, have sex, party or are involved with other illegal activities.  Most of all, you don’t want your teen to end up like the so-called friends they choose!  You freak out because their friends could care less about authority, rules, or even life, for that matter.  You visualize your teen locked up in state prison with their rowdy friends someday if they continue to hang with them, or some other situation they can’t possibly reverse.  Well, although it’s true that association can bring forth assimilation, it’s also true that a house with a solid foundation can’t be torn down by the storm.

Bottom line is this: we often become paranoid when our children start hanging out with “bad seeds” because we honestly don’t know if what we’ve taught them about being responsible will hold water when they are with their peers and not under our careful supervision.  We question ourselves, but in reality, we know that there is no time to sit back and think… we must act.

I have personally worked with a large number of teenagers who were incarcerated because they were hanging with the wrong crowd, doing the wrong thing at the wrong time; or worse, in the wrong place at the wrong time and weren’t even involved in the illegal activity they were accused of doing.

On the other hand, I’ve also dealt with many young adults who have told me they hang out with wild and loose friends because they are either popular or simply fun to hang around.  However, these same young people are comfortable with saying “no” and they know how to separate themselves from the “problem” activities of their friends.

In my experience, I have noticed a common theme among teens who were successful at separating themselves from negative activities– they shared a background where their parents were actively involved in their lives.  Additionally, there was a strong level of open communication between the teen and their parents.  This strong family foundation provided these teenagers with the strength to walk away from trouble, even if it meant walking away from some friends.

So, What Do You Do?

Trust that the foundation you’ve built is strong and use your time to stay actively involved with exactly what they spend their time doing, not just who they spend their time with.  You can further guide their path by helping them find positive activities both in and out of school that suit their interest.  As a result of participating in positive activities, they are more likely to meet friends that you both like who will share their interests.

Also, remember that communication is what helps to build that foundation.  Now is the time to talk with your teen as often as you can.  If they are not talking, then you talk; you may not think they are listening, but they are.  Tell them about your teen years and decisions you made that were good and not so good.  Tell them about the friends you had, the good and the bad.

By honestly sharing your experiences, you are showing your teen that you are not superhuman and you’re not perfect.  Also, telling them about your teen years shows them that it’s okay for them to tell you about their life, including things that their friends are asking them to do that they might feel uncertain about.

Lastly, when your teenager is speaking to you, make sure you actively listen to everything they are saying; meaning, listen for understanding and without interrupting them.  Your being a great listener shows them that their feelings are important to you, therefore, they are important to you.

Remember, listening means that you don’t just hear the words that come out of their mouth, but you actually hear what they are saying to you.  After they’ve approached you and vocalized a concern about their friends, provide them with positive options that will give them the chance to make their own decision on how they will responsibly deal with their situation.  This will build their confidence in solving problems on their own.

Soon, your teen will lose the loser friends because their common interest with them will slowly diminish.  And thanks to your subtle guidance, they will begin to find friends, on their own, that will respect their desire to participate in things that aren’t harmful to their health or future.

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About Audra L.

Audra L. is an author, columnist and community activist who's dedicated to finding truth through research and effective communication. She received her degree in Public Policy and teaches Community Development, Public Speaking and Communications Law to youth throughout the nation. She is the recipient of over 23 awards and honors for her commitment to community outreach initiatives.

One comment

  1. Second reply: I appreciate your recommending a parent share his/her personal experiences (and definitely not assume the role of the “parental dictator”). And, I heartily support a parent’s close listening to what his/her child has to say. Yet, I’d like to add something. Some of the things we hear from them may strike us as “way over the top” (i.e., shocking), but teens will often say outrageous things to, in a sense, test us. The thing is to closely attend to what is being said, then reply in an honest, respectful–and non-judgmental–way (and, generally, there is no need for the parent to respond in an equally “over the top” way).

    E.g., say, your daughter reports that her girlfriend lied to her parents when she spent a weekend with her boyfriend. You might respond that you find this upsetting (emphasizing your feelings), and are glad that she’s more honest ( and responsible) than this–perhaps accompanied by a hug.

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