New Friends and Old Pals: How to Handle & Interact with Your Teen’s Friends (Even the “Bad” Ones) Pt.2

Chances are your teen’s friends are pretty important to them (Understatement of the year?).

As kids grow into teenagers, friendships become increasingly vital, and all they to want to do is hang out with their buddies. Not to mention, the more they spend time with their friends, the less they seem to want to do so with you.

It can be tough as a parent to let go. It can be even tougher when you think about the tremendous impact these peers have on your kid’s attitudes, behavior, and beliefs.

Are they a kind-hearted group of pals? Do they respect adults and have good values? Will they encourage my teen to drink or take drugs? How can I make sure my child makes good choices when she is with her friends?

There are several key strategies to implement to best monitor and interact with your teen’s friendships. In our previous article, we discussed the importance of early steps like personally getting to know friends, exchanging phone numbers with both friends and their parents, and helping friends in times of need even when your child is not directly involved.

While these tips will all help build a successful bond with these pals—thereby strengthening your relationship with your teen as well—and help avert potentially dangerous situations, there is more you can do to keep your teen safe, having fun, and out of trouble.

Even if that means keeping her safe from certain “friends” and their influence.

As your teen starts spending more and more time out of the house with her friends, it is important to maintain a balance between overseeing safety and allowing autonomy. Until circumstances require otherwise, find that effective middle ground between overbearingly cautious and ignorantly laissez-faire.

Always be aware of your kid’s general plans when she is out—where she’ll be, what time she’ll be home. Know who she’s with, especially if it includes new friends who you have not been well acquainted with yet.

As we’ve recommended before, a great strategy to promote good behavior in teens is to give them the opportunity to gain a little bit more freedom by demonstrating responsibility. One approach is to allow your teen to alter his plans while he is out so long as he calls or texts to notify you first. For example, perhaps he and his group suddenly decide to go roller skating after their initial dinner plans, which will keep him out later than he originally thought.

Ultimately, it is your decision and you can always say no—simply telling you what’s going on doesn’t give your teen unbridled free reign—but generally permit these new plans. For most teenagers, if you show that you trust and respect them, they’ll be significantly more likely to want to uphold that trust by making good choices.

[The Edge of Seventeen Mom Texting Daughter clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZsLO7CHInXM&t=24s]

Should your teen demonstrate that she can’t handle this freedom or takes advantage of it, explain to her that she is not ready and revert to a more rigid system. Similarly, if you have suspicions that your teen is not is telling the truth about her plans but don’t have concrete evidence or are wary of a certain friend that was mentioned, go check out the scene for yourself.

Did your teen say she’s spending the night at a friend’s house? Drive by on your own to see if her car is there. Is she going with a group to the movies? You might as well catch a flick at a similar time and check if you see them in the lobby.

This isn’t the time to bust out your spy moves or wear a disguise. Don’t suddenly jump behind a bush to avoid being seen or pretend you totally forgot she and her friends were planning to be there if they come to talk to you.

Be casual. Act like—or better yet, actually have—errands or other business in the area and are not purely there to check up on them. Teenagers will not respond well if you seem like you do not trust them, especially when you claimed to trust them previously.

What about those friends of your teen that you just don’t care for (whether you simply aren’t fond of their personalities or are legitimately worried about their influence on your child)? How should you handle those cases?

First, still behave toward these friends in person the same as you would any other. Treat them kindly and talk to them when you have a chance. Even if they are your complete opposite and you cannot fathom what your teen sees in them, try to find just one thing you have in common.

Be extremely careful in openly criticizing friends or labeling them a “bad kid,” which can be one of the quickest ways to infuriate your teen. And never outright say you don’t like one of them.

Many teenagers are very protective of their friends, and an attack on a buddy is viewed as an attack on themselves. Not only that, but your teen will likely interpret your comments as a condemnation of his social skills, of his judge of character and ability to distinguish and attract quality people. Conversely, it might cause him to doubt you and think you unfairly judgmental.

However, there may be kids who are legitimately negative influences upon your child’s life, and it would be best if your teen spent less time with these individuals. They might encourage illegal and/or unsafe behavior, or perhaps they emotionally harm your teen, taking advantage of him or lowering his self-esteem. You can’t stand idly by but must manage the situation deftly so that you do not alienate your teen in the process.

First of all, banning a friendship or forbidding your teen from seeing his pal(s) is risky and should only be considered in circumstances that truly endanger the physical safety or emotional well-being of your child. More than likely, this action will infuriate your kid and cause him to seek out these friends more often due to rebellious spite or fear of losing them.

Instead, adopt the following strategies, which together should limit or cease a bad friend’s power over your child. The first is to focus on your teen and her behavior, regardless of a friend’s involvement.

Talk to her about her actions that you disapprove of and clearly establish and enact consequences when your expectations are not met. Eventually—perhaps subconsciously—an equation will take root in her head:

This negative reinforcement will lead her to spend less time with that friend or greatly alter her behavior when with him.

The second approach more directly addresses an unfavorable friend but still without “attacking” him in the eyes of your teen. More so, the goal is to have your kid conclude on her own that said person is not a good presence in her life.

Have a conversation with your teen about friendship, asking her what she thinks makes someone a good and bad friend. Share your own opinions on these categories as well. She’ll likely reference her own experience regarding the matter, but if not, ask your kid what friends of hers exemplify these qualities.

Do certain buddies consistently live up to her and/or your characterization of a good friend? Are there those who do not meet these expectations and do or say things that place them on the negative side?

Your teen may come to some startling revelations about a friend or two when she takes the time to truly think about it, especially if those pals fail her personal definition of a good friend.

When you do need to discuss a particular friend, subtly reveal your concerns while figuring out how your teen feels about that individual. Acknowledge that you might not know the whole story.

Ask what your kid sees in a certain pal about whom you are skeptical. Say something along the lines of, “Hey, it seems like Chris gets in trouble a lot and sometimes bosses you around. Help me understand: What do you see in him?”

Maybe you’ll learn about a side of Chris not obvious when he’s in your company, or that he is currently going through a family crisis or other issue which is affecting his behavior.

Conversely, your teen might struggle to come up with an answer or only respond with something incredibly minimal like “he’s funny.” In the latter case, press on: “Okay, that’s great, but is there more to it than that? Is he _____ (kind, trustworthy, does he always have your back, etc.—whatever important quality you want to address)?”

Don’t force your teen to give up that friend immediately or keep pushing him if he’s clearly getting frustrated with your questioning. What’s important is simply planting that little seed of concern.

It might not mean much right away, but even if teenagers won’t admit it or realize it themselves, their parents’ opinions matter a great deal, and your periodic comments will get your teen thinking. He will likely start noticing the aspects of his friend you addressed even though he never had before:

“Huh, Mom was right; Paul really doesn’t seem to value my opinion,” or Wow, I do end up in situations I’m uncomfortable in a lot when I hang with Sarah.”

With time and subtle encouragement, your teen will start to limit his time with that friend or gradually phase her out altogether.

At the end of the day, you must also remember that many friends will not easily be summed up as the perfect “good friend” who never gets in trouble or fights with your teen or as the trouble-making bully of a “bad friend” that needs to go. Teens are teens, people are people, and most will fall in the grey area in between.

Friends sometimes argue and hurt each other’s feelings. Good-hearted kids make mistakes and sometimes drink. It doesn’t mean they are automatically a horrendous presence in your teen’s life that must be removed.

Approach each incident individually at first but notice trends. Give second chances but trust your instincts. You’ll know in your gut when a friend is a little rough around the edges but alright at heart versus a truly negative influence.

Finally, remind your kid that her true friends will respect her choices and stand by her side even if they are different from their own, and she does not need to choose between drinking and having a social life. Teach your teen the skills to resist peer pressure and how to handle herself in a situation where drinking, drug use, or other risky behaviors are present.

Be available, be compassionate, be concerned and adamant when you need to be.

Be a confidant, be a source of guidance, be a parent.

It’s not always easy but if you keep this all in mind and your eyes open, you can navigate through the fascinating world of teenage friendships.

*          *          *

By Tyler Wroblewski

Click here for Part 1 of “New Friends and Old Pals: How to Handle & Interact with Your Teen’s Friends (Even the “Bad” Ones)”

Pictures From

Friends Walking Away: From Skinny Casual Lover at https://www.flickr.com/photos/136920307@N06/28884337216

Smoking Woman: From Valentin Ottone at https://www.flickr.com/photos/saneboy/3050003040

Teen Texting: From Carissa Rogers at https://www.flickr.com/photos/goodncrazy/8466275231

Driving in Car: From Timo Newton-Syms at https://www.flickr.com/photos/timo_w2s/305245555

Disguised Dad: From Jeff Turner at https://www.flickr.com/photos/respres/2468996828

Smoking Teen Boy: From https://pixabay.com/p-484090/?no_redirect

Thought Bubble: Original image from https://pixabay.com/p-305444/?no_redirect. Text added by author.

Group of Friends: From David Amsler, www.flickr.com/photos/amslerpix

Teen Boy Sitting Outside: From https://pixabay.com/p-1098665/?no_redirect

Teen Girl Thinking: From Petr Kratochvil [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Line of Friends: From Vaibhav Sharan (https://www.flickr.com/photos/vibhu000/7279793602) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Friends Looking Up: From hepingting (CB106492) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

New Friends and Old Pals: How to Handle & Interact with Your Teen’s Friends (Even the “Bad” Ones) Pt.1

Friends.

Pals. Buddies. Companions. Amigos. Besties and BFFs.

Whatever you call them, friends are one of the most important aspects of many people’s lives. They’re a source of fun, trust, and support, people to talk and listen to, and who can tremendously shape our beliefs, interests, and behaviors.

This is especially true for teenagers.

Teens are still developing mentally, emotionally, physically, and socially, still figuring out the world and their place in it. While parents typically remain the primary influence on their kid, the time adolescents spend with peers and the value they place in them grow substantially during the teenage years (who else are they going to send a texting rant to upon storming out of the room, after all?).

Because of the significant role friends play in teens’ lives, parents should always pay attention to with whom their child spends her time.

For although good behavior and attitudes can spread through a peer group, so too can unsafe or unhealthy actions like underage drinking, drug use, and more. Whole friend groups may turn to risky behaviors together as they get older, or these activities may be introduced by one or more individuals to the rest of the group that previously had no inclination toward them.

Sudden changes in friendships, in particular, might suggest substance abuse. Just as getting involved with alcohol or drugs often causes teens to lose interest in their hobbies, school, work, and family, they might also unexpectedly stop hanging out with their usual friends.

At the same time, teens may suddenly start hanging out with new people who share the same substance-using interests. These new friends might seem out-of-character for your teen to bond with and don’t seem to have much in common with your child otherwise.

Of course, we are dealing with teenagers here. Friendships do change, evolve, and sometimes end, with new relationships waiting to blossom right around the corner—especially in the teenage world of hormones and high school drama.

There are a thousand reasons why your teen might end a friendship or start a new one, and substance use is only one of them. Don’t automatically assume your teen is snorting coke just because she no longer rides bikes with Susie from 6th grade.

Instead, simply keep an eye on your teen’s friendships while looking out for other personality, behavior, or physical developments that signal possible drug use. Only when enough of these signs couple together should you seriously investigate the problem further and intervene if alcohol or drug use is occurring.

This article will cover how to best interact with your teen’s friends and approach and monitor his relationships, both new and old.

The first strategy is also the most obvious: Know who your kid’s friends are!

Ask your teen who he hangs out with. What are their names, what are they like? How did he meet them?

Then, at the first available opportunity you see these friends in real life, go over and introduce yourself. Shake hands. Even if it’s a pal your teen has had for a long time, whom you’ve kind of-sort of seen around the house for years but never formally met, make the next time you see her finally be that day.

Even better, take some time to talk to them. Figure out for yourself what the people who play such an important role in your teen’s life are like. Are they polite? Shy? Outgoing? Are they open to meeting and talking with you or counting down the seconds until you go away?

From that initial introduction on, try to chit chat for at least a little bit each time you see them. Ask about their hobbies, how school is going, if they have any fun vacations planned with their families—anything really, whatever topics that genuinely intrigue you, and help you get to know them as a person (this may also inform you more on what your teen is like, as friends often share interests and personality traits).

Over time, you’ll build your own sense of connection or relationship with each friend.

Try to be the parent your teen’s friends want to talk to. You hope your own child enjoys conversing with you and will seek you out for guidance, right? If you can act as this same source of help and advice for his buddies, that’s all the better.

Maybe they don’t have a strong relationship with their parents or another trusted adult in their lives that they can open up to or ask for help when they are embarrassed or afraid of getting in trouble. You can be that vital resource.

Offer to listen to thoughts, stories, and problems. Respond with understanding and honesty. Give advice if they seek it but also know that sometimes teenagers just need somebody to listen when they express themselves.

It is also a good idea early on to exchange phone numbers with your teen’s friends. That way you can still reach your kid despite her rushing out the door to meet a buddy, her phone down to 2% and dwindling fast. If ever for some reason your teen doesn’t or can’t respond to your calls or texts, you still have a way to make sure she is safe by communicating with her friends.

On the flip side, swapping contact information gives your teen and her friends another means to contact you. Perhaps your teen needs to update you on her plans while she is out, but her phone died, and she doesn’t know your number by heart (she should, of course, but when’s the last time a teenager memorized a number after plugging it into her contacts?). Now, however, because her friend also has your number, she can easily reach you.

In case of more dire situations, exchanging contact numbers is increasingly important. Say your teen binge drinks at a party and exhibits signs of possible alcohol poisoning, worrying his friends. Yet your teen refuses to call you for help or give up his phone for others to do so. Luckily, his buddies don’t need his phone to call you for help and explain what is going on (upon which you should tell them to call 911).

Friends might also reach out to you in situations that don’t even involve your teen, yet they require your help. One example is if a friend becomes intoxicated while out and cannot drive home. He thankfully recognizes that he should not get behind the wheel but is too scared or embarrassed to call his parents. Since you are a responsible adult he trusts (because you took the time to get to know him and build a relationship), he calls you for a ride.

Or perhaps he isn’t drunk but simply at a party or other environment he feels uncomfortable without a safe way to leave. In any case, you are able to remove the teen from a potentially dangerous situation, which could have jeopardized his safety or the safety of others. Even though your child might not be a part of the situation at all, helping your teen’s friend is the right, moral thing to do, and you should be proud that he admires you enough to reach out.

When you pick up your teen’s pal, you might feel angry and want to scold him, just as if it was your own kid. However, remember and implement our previous tips on picking up an inebriated teenager: Acknowledge you are grateful he asked for help and save the lecture or yelling. Your job is simply to get him home.

Remember that being the trusted, possibly even “cool” parent does not mean you are bound to secrecy regarding the situation. You are still an adult, after all, and must inform the friend’s parents of what happened. The friend might not have originally called his parents, but they need to know.

Certainly, you’ll have that chance when you knock on their door late at night carrying their drunken teen. If, however, you had to bring him to your home to stay with your teen for some reason—perhaps the parents are out of town—make sure to call them as soon as possible to let them know their child is safe and with you.

Give all the details you know about the situation and remind the parents that their kid made the smart choice of calling for help and that it is probably best to hold off on talking to their teen until he is sober.

Unsure of where your kid’s friend lives? Don’t know his parent’s phone numbers?

Of course, if the friend is coherent enough you can get this information from him, but he might not be if he is drunk or high.

And, sure, your teen may have swapped numbers with his folks (especially if they also read this article!), but maybe not. Or maybe your teen is at her grandparents’ house, which doesn’t receive much phone service, or is otherwise unreachable.

That’s why, with both your teen’s old pals and new, try to build some connection (or at least facial recognition) with her friend’s parents—ideally, before the friend is passed out in your passenger seat.

Just as you should meet your kid’s buddies, so too should you introduce yourself to parents at the first opportunity. Swap phone numbers. Small talk if there’s time.

Admittedly, a face to face meeting might be a tad difficult to come by once teenagers get their licenses and start driving themselves places, but try your best.

Perhaps make an excuse to drop off your teen at a friend’s house instead of her driving on her own one day. Or you can always take the direct approach and simply ask to meet a friend’s parents or invite the family over to dinner.

Getting to know friends’ parents will better keep teens of both families safe and show you even more what your teen’s pals are like. You might even make some friends yourself.

*          *          *

By Tyler Wroblewski

Click here for Part 2 where we will discuss interacting with friends you don’t like, ways to encourage your teen to end/limit a caustic friendship, knowing and checking up on your teen’s plans with friends, and more. 

Pictures From

Group of Girls: From db Photography | Demi-Brooke at https://www.flickr.com/photos/demibrooke/2577242406

Women Drinking: From https://pixabay.com/p-1173651/?no_redirect

Girls Smoking Pot in the Woods: From St. Gil, Marc, 1924-1992, Photographer (NARA record: 8464473) (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Shaking Hands: From Lucas (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Teen and Man Shake Hands: From https://pixabay.com/en/men-shaking-hands-hands-shaking-950915/

Woman and Teen Talk Outside: By John Benson at www.flickr.com/photos/j_benson

Exchanging Numbers with Teen: From Dave Proffer at https://www.flickr.com/photos/deepphoto/3939213937

Passed Out Woman: From Newtown Graffiti at https://www.flickr.com/photos/newtown_grafitti/7982820624

Talking on the Phone: From https://pixabay.com/p-1582238/?no_redirect

Getting into Car: From Lou at https://www.flickr.com/photos/wolfm49/1015256548

Women Talking: From https://pixabay.com/en/women-beautiful-talking-2079133/

Looking at a Map: From Victor at https://www.flickr.com/photos/v1ctor/4753184912

Adult Female Friends: From Lori at https://www.flickr.com/photos/lolololori/2581438627