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Parenting Solutions: Bad Friends

By — John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Updated on Dec 31, 2010

The Problem

Red Flags

Chooses pals with different values or inappropriate behaviors who influence your child's behavior in negative ways

The Change to Parent For

Your child understands the characteristics of a good friend, chooses friends based on those characteristics, and learns exit strategies or habits to say no to negative influences if he faces them from peers.

Question: "My daughter's new 'friend' is twelve going on twenty-five. She wears makeup, jeans that fit way too tightly, and has a pierced navel. I'm worried that this girl will be a negative influence. Should I worry?"

Answer: Ask yourself: "Why does my daughter want to be friends with this girl?" If it's just to be included, then help her think through if this group of girls really matches her values and interests. Help her find better friendship choices. But halt any relationship that could damage her character, reputation, or health.

Why Change?

"Why don't you like my friend's piercings?" "So what if Zach wears a black trench coat? It doesn't mean he's a bad kid." "Why don't you trust me? Sam isn't a bad kid." "Chill out! It's not like she's selling drugs!"

Bad friends. They're every parent's nightmare. We imagine only the worst: drugs, smoking, sex, trouble with the law. But what should parents do if they notice that their daughter is hanging out more with a kid whose values don't seem in sync with their own? Is there ever a time when you should forbid your son from being with a particular friend? Yes, there is, but don't jump to this conclusion too quickly. It's okay for your kid to have different kinds of friends. In fact, we should encourage those relationships. Exposing our kids to diversity is a big part of helping them broaden their horizons, develop tolerance and empathy, learn new habits, develop new perspectives, and get along with others. The trick here is to figure out when the other kid's values or lifestyle is really reckless, self-destructive, or totally inappropriate.

Consider this: Could hanging around this kid damage your child's character, reputation, or health? Keep in mind that our kids are rarely "made bad" by another kid, but the friends our kids choose to hang around with sure can increase the odds that they may—or may not—get into trouble.

Late-Breaking News

Ohio State University: Research confirms that although children are influenced by peers, parents are still the most influential factor in their kids' lives. Chris Knoester, lead author of the study and assistant professor of sociology at Ohio State University, studied data from 11,483 students and their parents.1 His team found clear evidence that parents can act as architects of the friendship choices their kids make even after they reach adolescence. In fact, kids are more likely to have good friends (ones who don't fight and who have future college plans) if they have a warm, positive relationship with their parents. The study also found that parents can indirectly influence their kids' friendship choices by monitoring and supervising their kids, being familiar with their children's friends, and having low conflict with their kid. So don't undermine your power. These findings show that parents can indirectly influence their children's behaviors by shaping their choice of friends.

Pay Attention to This!

When to Monitor Your Kid and That Pal Even More Closely

The after-school hours between three and six o'clock are the prime time for riskier kid behaviors. Keep closer tabs on your kid after school, get him involved in supervised after-school programs or sports, or enlist the help of other parents to open their homes so that your kids have safe hangouts. Insist that he call as soon as school is over so that you know where he is at all times. Set clear parameters as to where he may or may not go after school, and enforce your rules.

One Simple Solution

Use "What If?" Questions

A quick way to assess your kid's ability to handle troubling peers is to pose "What if?" questions. You make up the scenario, then listen to how your child responds. "What if … you go to a party and there aren't any parents? the kids want to sneak out of the slumber party to meet boys? your friend dares you to go through those abandoned houses?" Your child's answers will be a springboard to talk about possible peer problems and solutions as well as clue you in to your kid's reasoning and skill levels.

  • Emotional need. Your child has low self-esteem; there is a conflict at home.
  • Friendship. The kid offers a place to hang out and have a good time.
  • Protection. Your kid is bullied or harassed, or otherwise doesn't feel safe; this kid offers protection.
  • Excitement. The pal "pushes the envelope" and is exciting to be around.
  • Peer approval. Your child has trouble fitting in with a clique or group.
  • Similar interests. This kid shares similar interests, such as music, sports, or academics.
  • Support. Your child needs help with homework or with athletics; this pal can help.
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