Is your teen hanging with a bad crowd? Here’s what to do

We all want our kids to be happy among their peers, but what should you do if you believe your teen has chosen bad friends?

My daughter’s new friend grated on my nerves from the minute she introduced herself.

A jaded 40-year-old trapped in the body of an opinionated 13-year-old, cruel remarks came out of her mouth every time she opened it.

Like most mums, I want my daughter to be able to choose her people and feel happy within the friendship circle she’s created, but surely I could help her “curate” said circle by intervening, right?

Wrong, says clinical psychologist Anissa Mouti.

“As parents, we need to remember it is not up to us to tell our kids which friends are okay to hang out with and who to trust,” Anissa says.

“Our kids need to make their own decisions in life, even if those decisions are bad ones.

“Parents help to keep kids safe and support them through the tough times and drama that comes with being a teenager.

“Our role is to help them to remember that life is bigger than their current friendship circle.”

Fair enough, but at what point do you draw the line with bad friends?

When should parents step in?

Bristling at the types that walk through your door – particularly during your child’s adolescent years – is not all that unusual, but before you take a heavy-handed approach, it’s worth taking time to work out why you don’t like a particular friend, according to child and adolescent psychiatrist, Dr Lisa Myers.

“If you don’t like their dress code, manners, or love for tattoos, your opinion may be relevant but it would be best kept to yourself,” Dr Myers says.

“Parents should be careful not to project their own issues onto their child or pass judgement based on their personal views or unresolved experiences.”

Of course, if their friends are placing your child at risk of harm – either to themselves or others – then your opinion and choice for them would be more valid, Dr Myers adds.

“You would have to handle the situation sensitively and respectfully, as telling them what to do could have the opposite effect.”

Banning, criticising or confronting their friends could encourage your child to feel more attached to them, thus strengthening their bond as opposed to yours.

Take a firm but fair approach

Before you approach the topic with your child, Dr Myers recommends taking a moment to consider your relationship with them.

“If you are firm but fair and loving, then your child may be more inclined to take instructions from you at times when you do step in,” Dr Myers says.

“If you are in credit, you are more likely to be able to withdraw from it when you need to (for example, if there is love, respect and enough autonomy over the years then you will be able to enforce your rules when needed.

“If you are constantly picking on your child or trying to enforce your rules, your words will fall on deaf ears.”

Why teens need to work out good and bad friends themselves

Rather than telling your teen what they can and can’t do (they’ll push back), aim for a collaborative approach, advises Anissa.

“Try to get details of where they are going and who they’re going with, but do it without an interrogation or criticism about these friends,” she says.

“You want your child to be able to open up to you about their peers and come to you with issues they may be having and they won’t do this if they think they’ll get the ‘I told you so’ response.”

Anissa also recommends finding another trusted adult (other than a parent, such as a therapist, sports coach or mentor) your child can freely speak with, and coming up with a safety plan such as getting them to text you so that you will pick them up straight away without questioning them.

Make suggestions of how they could make new friends (joining a team, getting involved in a community group, etc), and try to create boundaries – times or places they can see these friends, adds Dr Myers.

“Respect your child’s thoughts and feelings about the situation and try to have healthy conversations where you really listen to them, all the while highlighting your reasoning as to why you want them to terminate or distance themselves.”

Ultimately, remember that there is terrific value in letting your teen navigate things on their own (with your full support).

In our case, my teen was quick to work out that her new friend wasn’t much of a friend at all and walked away.

I felt relieved, but mostly, I felt proud that she’d come to that conclusion herself.

Written by Dilvin Yasa.