What about their friends?

February 20, 2004|by ANDREA ROWLAND

There is a right way to deal with the "wrong crowd."

Few parents like all of their teenager's friends, some of whom might be perceived as having a bad influence on otherwise good kids. But yelling, stereotyping and imposing harsh restrictions without teen input will rarely yield positive results - and usually will harm parent-teen relationships, experts say.

An open mind, open home, nonstifling involvement, empathy and a willingness to listen and advise but not lecture are but a few of the tools that parents can use to help steer their teens into positive peer groups.

It's important for adolescents to expand their social circles, and parents should encourage their teens to reach out to new friends, said Kate Kelly, parent of teenagers and author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Parenting a Teenager."


"Staying with the same clique or group from elementary school is terribly confining," she said.

Adolescence is a time when teens turn to friends for help in developing their own identity and understanding the world around them, and look to parents for advice - not rules, Hagerstown psychologist James Childerston said.

"Rules without relationship equals rebellion," he said. "Talk, listen and accept teens as emerging adults. ... If we communicate that we trust and respect them, they'll act in a trustworthy and respectful way."

Spending time with the teen crowd - volunteering to drive the kids to the mall or the movies, offering your home as a gathering place, attending the high school basketball game - is the best way for parents to learn about their adolescents' friends, said Kelly, who lives in New York.

Teens are keen on stereotypes, so don't pass blind judgment on your teenager's friends, Childerston said.

"Don't be too quick to judge your teen's new friends. The kid with the purple hair may actually be a great kid from a perfectly decent family," Kelly agreed. "Make the effort to understand a bit about why your teen is attracted to a particular person. Is the boy with the pierced eyebrow a fabulous drummer, and your son likes being around him to learn more about music? You might even ask your teen point blank: 'You really seem to enjoy being around Jared. He's kind of quiet around parents - tell me more about what you like about him.'"

Always try to look at the situation from the teen's perspective, suggested Wendy S. Grolnick, associate psychology professor at Clark University in Massachusetts. Grolnick's research has focused on how peer groups and other social contexts support children's motivational and emotional development.

Open communication also is key to helping teens stay out of trouble. In a calm and honest manner, discuss any concerns you might have about adolescent friendships, experts say. Childerston suggests talking to teens in a relaxing environment, such as while engaging in a fun activity together. Provide solid reasons for your worries, reasons that will make sense to your teen, Grolnick said.

And if you've heard that a friend engages in such risky behavior as underage drinking or drugs, ask your child about it and request their help in addressing your emotions, Kelly added.

"If they can have some part in the making of the rules, they'll be more likely to follow them when you're not around," Grolnick agreed.

If concerns persist, consider the environment in which your child hangs out with the friend in question before pushing the issue with your teen.

"If it's an in-school relationship, it probably doesn't put your teen at risk. If they like doing things after school, then asking that your teen see the friend at your house - instead of her house - will help you keep an eye on the relationship," Kelly said.

Teens who play host to friends in a positive home environment might also gain a better understanding of the contrasts between themselves and their friends - giving teens a tool they can use to evaluate whether the friendship is in their best interests, Childerston said.

Parenting pros agree that forbidding a teen from hanging out with someone can breed resentment. It's only advisable to forbid relationships if your teen's safety is at stake - such as when friends are pressuring your child to use drugs, shoplift or participate in other illegal activities, according to information for The National Parenting Center at on the Web.

The organization gives the following tips for helping adolescents find positive peer groups:

  • Encourage your teen to find special interests and peers who share these interests by participating in group activities and organizations.

  • Look into peer discussion, education groups and classes at boy's and girl's clubs, churches and synagogues.

  • Make it easy and tempting for your teen to entertain friends at home when you're there to supervise.

  • Get to know your teen's friends' parents so you can unite over matters of curfew and other limits - counteracting the common adolescent argument that everyone else is allowed to do this or that.
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