During all of life, but especially during the teen years, friendships are particularly important. During these years, your teens are learning who they are and are very much influenced by their peer group. This serves up a true dilemma for parents, because while teen friendships are so important, discussing them with your teens can be somewhat sensitive.
Think back to the reactions that you have gotten when you have attempted to express doubt about your teens’ friends. It may have gone something like this:
Parent: “I’m not sure about that Emily.”
Teen: “You hate all my friends.”
Your teen then leaves the room making it clear that the conversation is OVER. Maybe a door slam is added in for good measure.
What your teens are really saying is that by criticizing their friends you are in effect doubting them and insulting their judgment. Their friends are extensions of themselves, so we encourage you to tread lightly. Try some perspective taking. How would you respond if they offered similar opinions about your friends?
The question then remains, “what next?” Do you allow your teens to spend time with friends that you don’t like, or do you try to prevent this? Before we offer our suggestions, we encourage you to ask yourself the quintessential questions, “Why don’t you like this friend?”
Consider the following list:
Is it their appearance?
Is it because of rumors that you’ve heard?
Is it something that you just can’t identify?
Are you certain that the friend is selling drugs?
Do you know for a fact that the friend is drinking and driving?
Is the friend manipulative and/or in constant trouble?
If you responded yes to 1, 2, or 3:
We encourage you to try to get to know the friend and gather more information. Start by encouraging your teen to have this friend over to your home. This will provide opportunities to directly talk with this questionable friend. In addition, it will offer an opportunity for you to observe the interactions between your teen and this friend. Who knows, you may change your opinion! If for some reason you are still not a fan but can find no basis for your opinion, you may have to let it go.
If you are certain that 4, 5, or 6 are true:
You are in the unenviable position of having to intervene and limit the extent of the friendship. Although this will not immediately increase your popularity with your teen, it will in the long run increase the likelihood that your teen remains safe.
If you must intervene, then we encourage you to explain to your teen that your job as a parent is to keep your teen safe. You may want to explain that you do not necessarily think their friend is a bad person, but that he or she is simply on a dangerous path at this moment in time.
You have both the right and the responsibility to put the brakes on a destructive friendship. In the process, make sure to communicate your love and empathy for your teen and even your empathy for their troubled friend.