Hate Your Child’s Friends?

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The tween and teen years are highly emotional. Melodrama can quickly arise when kids don’t agree with their parents about what’s best — whether it’s focusing more on schoolwork and less on Facebook, deciding what’s appropriate to wear, or showing they’re responsible enough to borrow the car.


Sooner or later, most children form a friendship or dating relationship that displeases their parents. It’s a fact of life —it’s teens’ responsibility to grow apart from their parents and learn who they want to become. As they assert themselves as individuals and learn from their mistakes, parents must step back and handle various situations effectively.


Experts share insight into achieving desirable results and avoiding disaster.


Be Tolerant and Tactful


If your child has developed a friendship or other relationship you consider unhealthy, ask yourself why you feel this way. Is it the friend’s attitude or appearance? Has your child’s behavior changed? Did you hear a rumor? Was there a troubling incident? Before you act, consider if you may be judging too harshly. Unless you’ve seen “red flags” signaling potential alcohol or drug use, sexual activity, bullying, or other trouble, you may be overreacting. If you’ve been patient and open-minded and still believe your child is headed down the wrong path, knowing how and when to intervene is crucial.


Dr. Tammy Finch, a licensed psychologist with SkillSense of Raleigh, advises parents in this situation to be self-aware, tolerant and tactful. “Parents have to be careful to focus on not judging another child based on appearance or other superficial issues,” she says. “Your child can be friends with someone who has different values than your family and be just fine. Many parents go into a hypercritical mode when what they should do is focus on the effect the relationship is having on their child.” Finch adds, “You shouldn’t talk to your child about how the friend dresses or acts, but what you’ve noticed about your child’s behavior after he’s been with that friend. The line in the sand needs to be drawn at the child’s safety, not your personal preference.”


Allow Friendships to Fade and Mistakes to Teach


Tricia Cesari, the mother of a 15-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son in Winston-Salem, says she became concerned last year when her son and one of his classmates began spending time at her house while she was at work.


“They’d light candles in the house and burn things, and then they’d lie about it,” she says. “Or things would get broken in the house every week, and I’d never know how it happened.”


Cesari decided to talk to her son about what was going on. “I tried first to talk him out of (the friendship), which didn’t work.” She later told her son he was old enough to make his own decisions about friends, but she still had the same rules and standards for him, despite how his friend behaved. She also set house rules about when the friend was allowed to visit. Over time, the boys’ relationship subsided.


Friendships often run their course with little or no parental intervention. Resist your instinct to demand your child cut ties with the friend in question. That rarely works, Finch says. In fact, it likely will have the opposite effect.


“If you put yourself in the position of trying to control everything, you’re setting yourself up for a power struggle, and you’re eventually going to lose,” says Finch.


She also emphasizes that tweens and teens learn from their mistakes. As long as they’re not in harm’s way, it should be part of growing up. “They’re getting ready to leave your house in a few years, and you want them to be able to practice freedom and independence, and be able to make mistakes while they’ve still got a safety net.”


Finch suggests getting to know your child’s friends better. “Invite the friend you’re most worried about into your home. You might learn the friend isn’t as scary or dangerous as you had assumed. If not, at least your child is seeing you be open to differences.”


Consider the Big Picture


“Part of identity formation in adolescence is trying on different identities and types of friends, and seeing what works,” says Kristie Roe, a licensed counselor with South Charlotte Counseling & Consulting.


She adds that a balanced life is necessary so tweens and teens don’t become bogged down in unhealthy relationships. “Step back and look at the landscape of your child’s life. Is he or she engaged in a hobby or sport? Is he striving academically for success? If you have a nice, balanced picture, where there are one or two friends you’re worried about, step back. More often than not, that relationship will be short-lived.”


But what if things are out of balance? At times, parents do need to intervene, and it may be helpful to get to know the friend’s parents, Roe advises. “If they come from the same mind-set as you, that’s a real plus, and you can work together to make sure the kids are doing OK and manage the relationship better,” she says.


Communication Is Crucial


Talking with your child about his or her friendships is essential, but choose your words carefully, Roe says. “Start a dialog about what’s happening, but don’t speak negatively. If there’s something your child is connecting with in that friend, he or she will feel like you are attacking them, too. Talk about the behaviors, rather than the friend in question.”


If you suspect your teen may be engaging in risky behavior, put the brakes on. Be involved with his or her school and extracurricular activities. Know where your child is at all times, and check in when you’re apart. Set boundaries, including house rules, like curfews. Limit TV time and monitor Internet usage whenever possible. Make family time a priority, and find supervised activities your child enjoys. Talk to other parents, and don’t be afraid to seek professional help if you feel like you’re losing your footing.


Choosing friends is a necessary part of adolescence, and you’re not always going to understand or agree with the choices your child makes. Observation and communication are keys to knowing when he or she is developing healthy relationships versus when it’s time to have a talk about behaviors and consequences.


“Stay calm, cool and collected, and watch from the sidelines,” says Finch. “You’re going to be much more likely to know when to intervene and when to leave things alone.”

Tammy Holoman is a Winston-Salem-based freelance writer.