Know Your Child's Friends and Their Parents
A New Era
As children move into middle school and on to high school, they meet new people and experience changes in style, outlook, and social life. Don't be surprised to see major shifts in your child's fashion sense, the movies she watches, and the music she listens to. As your adolescent develops her new identity, she may challenge the way things are done and may see little need for advice and direction. Disappearing into her room, spending endless hours on the phone, and hanging out with friends—often new friends—are behaviors that signal a whole new scene.
As a child begins to declare his independence, his social circle may provide new views about what's right, acceptable, "cool," or "hip." Unspoken expectations as well as direct encouragement can sway an adolescent's behavior as well as his attitudes.
The youth scene inevitably includes issues of drinking, smoking, and illegal drug use. When a young person has friends who engage in these activities, it becomes easier for her to believe that such conduct is normal. Besides, adolescents tend to think nothing bad can happen to them. As a result, a child may be inclined to go along with the crowd. She may try a substance that not only is dangerous, but also can get her in trouble. Remember, tobacco and alcohol use are against the law for adolescents.
A Watchful Eye
Young people often are so focused on their personal world of friends and activities that parental influence may seem to be squeezed out. But you can do a lot to help your adolescent take the right social cues.
Getting to know a child's friends is a good place to start. Meeting them will give you a sense of their personalities, what they are "into," and their family situations. Don't be too quick to judge a child's friends, though. Radical styles and unconventional appearances may be nothing more than a badge of identity. Besides, your child will dismiss any snap judgments that you offer.
Welcome your child's friends into your home. Encourage your child to invite them over. Talk with them. Offer to drive them home or to drop the group off at a party, the movies, or a school event.
Get to know the friends' parents. If you haven't met them, give them a call. Ask what their expectations are regarding curfews, sleepovers, and entertainment. Share your rules and views. Invite the friends' parents to contact you with any questions or concerns regarding the adolescents' behavior or to clarify arrangements for their activities. Doing so will add to your impressions of your child's friends. It will help you know where your child is, whom he is with, and how (or if) he is being supervised when he's not at home.
A Guiding Hand
Adolescents may react negatively to any pressure or direct suggestions about whom they should hang out with. But there are plenty of opportunities to learn more about their friends. You can ask a child what she likes about a friend or what she thinks of a situation. Use examples from your own experience. Spending time together and being involved in a child's life allows communication about friends and other sensitive topics to become natural and expected.
Encourage your children to get involved in activities that match their interests. Trying different activities channels an adolescent's curiosity into things that are safe and fun. Positive activities are good ways to meet friends who have positive attitudes.
A Good Result
You may wonder if any of your guidance is sinking in, but young people listen and absorb more than you think. They are likely to apply your viewpoint to their own friends and social situations. Young people consistently say that their parents are the most important influence in their lives.1
Put It Into Practice
The next time your child has a friend over, invite the friend's parent/guardian over for a cup of coffee. Or, invite his or her family over to play a board game!
1 Office of National Drug Control Policy. Training of Trainers Workshop 1998. The extended family. Parenting IS Prevention, last referenced 10/18/2002.
- Institute for Youth Development: Smith, A.M. The Power of Peers
- Ohio State University Extension: Sachs, S.L. Monitoring: Staying Involved in Your Teen's Life
Reprinted with the permission of the Department of Health and Human Services.
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