Dear Your Teen:
What do you do when you have spoken to your child about choosing their friends wisely, about making good decisions, and then you find out that they are hanging out with friends who are making bad decisions and very bad choices?
EXPERT | Sheryl Gould
When you don’t like your teenager’s friends, you may feel powerless, desperate and not know what to do. It’s not an easy situation, and sometimes to guide our teens in the right direction, our actions feel counterintuitive.
5 suggestions to improve your teen’s decision-making:
1. Don’t blame their friends.
Fight the urge to criticize your child’s friends, and don’t blame them for your kid’s bad behavior. You may 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.
Instead of blaming, ask yourself what your teen’s reasons for choosing these kids might be.
2. Open the lines of communication.
Focus on your relationship with your teen and communicating your concerns directly. Chances are your teen is hanging out with these friends because they feel accepted and understood.
Try listening rather than lecturing. Seek to understand your teen’s way of thinking without judgment. Spend time with your son or daughter. And then share your concerns without judging or criticizing their friends.
For example, “I understand that your friends are important to you, but I don’t like that Erica got arrested for smoking pot. I want good things for you. If you are hanging out with them, chances are you will make similar decisions.”
3. Set clear expectations.
Communication is key, so set clear expectations and rules – and ask good questions.
Don’t be afraid to say “no.” Kids need to behave responsibly in order to earn privileges. Drinking, using drugs and skipping homework isn’t responsible behavior. Our job as parents it to hold them accountable.
4. Ask good questions.
When you do try to discuss their friend set, ask questions that will make your teen think rather than telling them the reasons they should be making different choices.
“Tell me what you like about Sue and Holly,” or “How do you feel when you’re around them?”
You also want them to know that you believe in them. Without realizing it, parents send their kids the message, “I don’t trust you to make good decisions,” which can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Your words are seeds and the messages you instill in your kids is the fruit they will bear.
Believe they can, and they will grow to believe it too.
5. Make your home a safe, loving and fun place.
Ask yourself if your home is a place you’d want to be if you were a teen. If the answer is no, think about what you can do to change it. And get your teen involved in positive activities. If they gravitate towards living on “the edge,” find healthy outlets to express this part of themselves.
If your teen is hanging with the wrong crowd, fight for your teen and what they need rather than fighting against these friends. No matter what choices your teen is making, they need to feel understood and accepted by you.
When they do, the less likely they will be, to get these needs met in less desirable places.