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When Parents Don't Like Their Teens' Friends

Kids' pals rubbing you the wrong way? Here's advice for constructively getting to the heart of the issue – with yourself and with your child

My mother used to constantly remind me, "You can pick your friends, but you can't pick your relatives!" All of my friends' mothers said the same thing. We all took this to heart and into adulthood. Unfortunately, no one warned us that this didn't include our children's friends.

So, we began picking out our kids' friends when they were toddlers. These friends we chose were usually the kids of our own friends, or the kids of the other mommies in the neighborhood who we deemed fun to hang out with. Things were simple back then. If you didn't like how certain children were behaving in front of yours, you didn't invite them over.

We didn't realize until much later that friend "picking out" was a transient affair. Teens' friends are another story altogether. They're private territory and off-limits to parents – so say our teens.

Leveling and taking stock

So, what does one do when one is not exactly thrilled with the new friend? First, parents should be honest with themselves. What is it about the new friend? Is he sporting a nose ring? Does she talk in two-word sentences? Is he flunking math? Maybe you just don't like her and you can't put your finger on it.

The first thing parents need to do is to be honest about "why" they don't like the new friend. Are there legitimate reasons, such as drug abuse or the way this person treats your teen? Keep in mind that forbidding a friendship can make things worse, and chemistry is not something you can easily predict or manipulate.

It's best to get to know the friends rather than making an instant character assessment. With younger teens, offer to drive them places and listen to their conversations. Invite your teen's friends over to your house for dinner. Instead of grilling them about their grades, sit down and talk with them about their interests. You can learn a lot about a person if you're able to engage him in a lengthy conversation.

Just can't shake it

If you still have concerns, it's time to broach the subject with your teen. Sylvia LaFair, a psychologist and author of Don't Bring It to Work: Breaking the Family Patterns that Limit Success says, "The best way for parents to approach their teen if there is concern about a new friendship or new group of friends is directly."

She advises that parents ask questions such as, "How can we work together to minimize my concerns?" She says to keep the dialogue going until your teen begins to open up. "You will get more information when you talk together than if you give finger-pointing directives," she explains.

LaFair warns that parents need to put their foot down if they feel their teen is in danger because of a new set of friends. "If you feel there is serious danger with your teen and questionable friends, it's time to take a stand. Would you let your 2-year-old walk into traffic? Get serious with your teen, and let him know why certain dangerous friends are off limits."

Quick do's and don'ts

  • Do observe his attitude toward adults.
  • Don't look at her appearance alone.
  • Do look for signs of drug or alcohol abuse.
  • Don't hover when friends come over – you want them to come back!
  • Do stick around if a friend of the opposite sex is over.
  • Don't directly attack the friends. This will put your teen on the defensive. Ask him open-ended questions that are non-judgmental instead. You'll keep the dialogue going.
  • Do talk to your teen about what makes a "good" friend.

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