You shouldn’t expect to like all of your teenager’s friends. But be wary of interfering, unless those friends are getting your teenager into trouble, advises Dr. Tori Cordiano, assistant director of the Center for Research on Girls at Laurel School in Ohio in this Your Teen Q&A.
Q: Where do we start?
Cordiano: Start with a conversation. Your willingness to really listen to your teenager will naturally lead to a conversation about friends. Be careful with criticism or your teenager might push back or jump to a friend’s defense. Reflective listening works well. For example: “Hmm, I see what you’re saying. You like spending time with Sally, but she’s getting in trouble for some things that you want to steer clear of.” Focus the conversation around your teenager’s goals—specifically what helps and what interferes with reaching those goals—rather than focusing the conversation around what you don’t like about specific friends.
Q: What if this strategy doesn’t work?
Cordiano: If more subtle approaches have failed, consider what bothers you about these friends. Are your teenager’s friends bad influences? If it seems that your teenager’s grades or motivation have declined since spending time with this group, tie responsible behavior with the privilege of spending time with friends. This will help your teen connect his actions to consequences.
If this group engages in illegal or dangerous behavior, then set concrete consequences. Try helping your teen understand that a good way to take care of himself is to spend time with friends who take care of themselves (i.e., who forgo risky behavior). Teens may be aware of poor friendship choices, but reluctant to change them if they feel they lack other social options. Encourage out-of-school activities to help your teenager expand his social network.
Q: Anything else we should consider?
Cordiano: Be mindful of why you don’t want your teenager around certain friends. Maybe you think they’re a bad influence. If you’re concerned about safety or you see a negative shift in your teen’s mood or behavior after spending time with certain friends, you should intervene. However, if you don’t like certain friends for other, less harmful reasons, it might be more effective to stand by without acting. Creating overly strict limits around friend choices might backfire. Your teen may be more reluctant to talk with you about peers’ risky behavior and more likely to defy your rules.