When You Disapprove of Your Teenager's Friends: When to Wait, When to Act

Lately, your son has deserted his old friends for a new, fast crowd. Their bizarre clothes are bad enough, but their parties really worry you. Still, you know that well-intentioned warnings can backfire. You're caught between the urge to protect your son and the instinct to let him make his own decisions.

Let the situation dictate how you respond to your teen's friends. Here are four ways to deal with increasingly troublesome friendships:

You should do nothing about your teen's choice of a friend when... your disapproval is based solely on stereotypes, personal tastes, or opinions of a friend's parents. These aren't valid reasons for doing anything other than keeping your opinions to yourself. For example: Your child's friend is from the "bad part of town," or is of a different race, religion, or ethnic heritage; You don't like a friend's dress, haircut, or manner of speech; You don't like or don't get along with the youngster's parents.

You should express your feelings and keep a close eye on things when... there are some vaguely outward signs of potential problems, but no signs of actual trouble. Examples include: The friend sometimes associates with troublemakers, but hasn't been involved in any mischief; The friend has been in trouble before, but seems to have straightened out; The friend's parents don't supervise as well as you'd like, or they give freedoms you're not yet willing to give your child.

Under circumstances such as these, tell your teen how you feel: "I'm probably just an old worry-wart, but I have to tell you I'm not completely comfortable with the friendship you've formed with so-and-so." Explain the reason behind your discomfort and state your expectations: "I'm going to keep closer tabs on this friendship than I normally would. You can prevent me from intervening by acting responsibly and staying out of trouble."

You should set some limits on the relationship when... the friend has a habit of getting into trouble, but only in certain, select situations; or, your teenager and the friend get into some minor trouble together. These are "marginal cases." Situations such as these demand that you put some logical restrictions on the relationship. For instance, if the friend's driving record is poor, don't let your teen ride along. If the friend has been arrested for shoplifting, don't let them go to stores together without an adult. If they skipped school, put them off limits to one another for awhile. You may want to put the relationship "on notice." You may issue a warning: "Right now, I'm only going to limit your relationship. If problems occur, I may put a complete freeze on things. It's all up to you and your friend."

You should prohibit the association altogether if... the friend is a proven, habitual troublemaker, or your child and the friend make major mischief together

Prohibit the friendship altogether if the friend is a proven, habitual troublemaker, or if your child and the friend make major mischief together. For example: The friend is a known drug user; The friend has a history of juvenile delinquency; Your teen and the friend burglarize someone's house.

These guidelines can help you decide your first response to friendships that make you uncomfortable. At first, adopt the most liberal position possible. If problems begin to develop, go to the next most appropriate step. The decision to intervene in your child's social life is never easy. You must balance facts against your intuitions, biases, protectiveness-and your ego.

Copyright 2016, John K. Rosemond

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