Friends are very influential in the teen years. It’s at this age when a child finds peers far more interesting and far more knowledgeable than family members. Unless parents get to know their teenager’s friends, they’re in the dark regarding the kind of influences their youngster is receiving. But how can a parent get to know the people in his or her teenager’s inner circle?
If you’d like to get a feel for who your child’s friends are, consider the following tips:
Invite Them to Your Home
You can get to know your child’s friends in different ways. If you pick up your teen up from school everyday, then offer to drop off friends. Be conversant; talk about current events, ask them about school stuff, or comment on the song playing on the radio. You get to know your teens’ friends a little through the talk, and you also get to know where they live.
Another important strategies is to make it easy and pleasant for your child to bring friends home. Your home will be a safe and appealing “hang out” if you create the following kind of environment:
it is a peaceful, conflict-free environment (no loud fights occur between family members, particularly when “company” is over!)
the home looks normal (not excessively messy, chaotic or run down)
there are lots of snacks and very few rules
you make yourself fairly scarce, giving the kids space to interact freely without excessive adult supervision
you offer goodies, make a few pleasant remarks or light jokes and you refrain from asking personal or intrusive questions
you say nothing about your child to his or her friends and you don’t ask the friends about your child either
you never correct or criticize your child in the presence of his or her friends
Allow your child to invite friends on weekends and for a sleepover, dinner, school project, or movie marathon – make everyone feel welcome.
As kids come pouring into your home, take note. Hopefully your child has made good choices in friends. However, there might be a child or two who makes you feel concerned. Use this feeling to spearhead a small investigation – you’ll want to take your time with this. Refrain from jumping to conclusions based on limited exposure and external appearances. The child’s style – even if it is the style you associate with dangerous thugs or subversive characters – may actually be just the child’s style! The teenager under the costume might be a very nice and totally respectable kid.
Do a Little Research and/or Have a Little Chat
If you are seriously concerned about one of your child’s friends, try doing a little research. You might be able to pick up some information on social networking sites like Facebook and other places. Even Google Search might yield something. If you find something that makes you feel uncomfortable, be sure to tell your child. For instance, you can say something like, “You know, your friends seem like such a nice bunch of kids but that one fellow Craig always makes me feel uncomfortable. I decided to look him up online just to check my instincts and I found a photo of him getting arrested for running a grow house! Were you aware of that?”
You can follow up by explicitly stating your concerns and worries, but DO NOT forbid your child to associate with a particular friend. Such a maneuver is likely to backfire, causing your teen to become sneaky, devious, rebellious and otherwise unsavory in his attempts to remain a free agent. Instead, simply invite your youngster to think about whether he really wants this sort of person as a friend. For instance, one might say, “I’m sure Craig is a nice guy but I’m worried that he’s not the best influence – he’s not exactly a model citizen. You might think differently, but I think that the people we hang around with tend to rub off on us – you know, walk into a perfume shop and you come out smelling like perfume – and all that stuff. Sometimes hanging around unsavory characters automatically puts us in the same category with them. But it’s up to you to choose the kind of friends you want in your life. Everyone has to make that choice for themselves. I myself would think twice about associating with someone like Craig.”
More often, you won’t be able to find any strong “evidence” against your child’s friends. Your gut feeling and parental wisdom will more likely be at the root of your worry. In this case, explain to your child that although you have no real proof that anything is amiss, your own instincts tell you that something is not quite right with his friend. Ask him if he has ever had a similar feeling about someone. Tell him that as a parent, you feel concerned for him and that although you certainly can’t advise him to drop the friend based on “nothing,” you are hoping that he’ll use his best judgment to decide whether this is a person he should keep close to him. Honesty will be your best policy. Again, refrain from ultimatums, threats or any other kind of drama. Your loving concern will be evident and the most powerful educational tool that you have.