We raise our kids to make good choices, whether it's what to eat or wear, and their wise choice of friends. Then the teen years hit and, along with them, teen behavior. Some kids sail smoothly through these years, but sometimes they need a little guidance when it comes to choosing friends. Teens aren't mature enough to see what adults do. So what if you don't care for your teen's friend?
Dr. Jennifer Guttman, PsyD Clinical Psychologist has the following tips for parents:
- Encourage your teen to have their friend over at your house instead of them going to the friend's house at least at first. "Make your home a comfortable place so that you don't get pushback from your teen about having their friend visit. For example, know what your teen likes to do with their friends and have those things available so that you don't hear 'Our house is the boring house' excuse," says Dr. Guttman.
- Walk around the house when your teen's friend is over to make your presence known. Typical teen behavior often involves a desire to close off but Dr. Guttman encourages teens not hole up in their room and to keep the door open. "Wander in and say, 'Hi.' If you happen to overhear any conversation that you feel is something you can follow up with afterwards with your teenager, make a mental note about what concerned you for a mindful discussion later," says Dr. Guttman.
- Mindful communication with your teen about your concerns regarding their friends is key. Dr. Guttman says, "If the communication is not mindful, the automatic response from all teenagers is, 'You don't trust me,' which is code word for, 'You don't trust my judgment.'" In order to avoid this minefield altogether, have brief conversations instead of lengthy ones, don't use specific names, discuss topics of particular concern to you, e.g., substances, the importance of schoolwork, and having friends around that also value homework, the importance of trying hard in school and having friends around that model the same. Ask your teen which friends are good role models for them and why. This way, the conversation stays positive. Read about these 5 teachable moments for tweens and teens.
- Keep the lines of communication open about what happens in your teenager's day. "Ask specific questions about their day socially and academically to get a better handle on how certain friends may be impacting their relationships with other teens or their focus on their school work. Again, be careful about looking accusatory. Carefully information gather instead of diving in and asking a direct question about a friend you're concerned about. Teens are very protective of their friends," says Dr. Guttman.
- Allow a teen with whom you've had concerns about in the past redeem themselves. Teens do grow up and change over time and particularly throughout the high school years. Some of them grow up and mature because of high school experiences, some receive therapy or substance abuse counseling, and some have family changes that cause a change in maturity. "Being open-minded to changes that may occur in a person, you may heretofore have disapproved of, is good modeling for your child," shares Dr. Guttman. Want to know what to do if your teen or their friend tells a racist joke? Find out how to handle it!