Written by: Maria Brett
Be honest now – there are times when we all seriously question the kind of company our kids are keeping. If they start to exhibit undesirable behaviours, it is comforting to look outwards and find others to blame. As parents, it’s natural to feel protective of our kids, but equally important to acknowledge that our little angels may not be as squeaky clean as we’d like to imagine.
Parents of the other kids in your child’s group of friends may be having similar thoughts – and to them YOUR child is part of that ‘wrong’ crowd. So how can we distinguish between a crowd that is genuinely leading our kids astray, or the one in which they are simply testing their newfound freedoms on their own terms? And what can we do about it?
Get Inside your Child’s Mind
When your child elects to hang out with a specific group of friends there is a reason behind that choice. Something about the group appeals to him, this could offer a sense of belonging that is an important part of growing up. Kids, and adolescents in particular, are seeking their place in the world; it is vital to their emotional well being that they feel accepted and a part of something bigger than themselves. This is why teenagers are so obsessed with how they look, choose one type of music over another and act in certain ways.
Be careful with critisism
To your growing child their friends are their pack, their safety net. They surrounded themselves with young people who they can relate to. If parents criticise their choices, the child feels as if you are criticising them personally, the familiar refrain of ‘You don’t understand me!’ is so often given in reply. Your child’s goal is to belong – your objective is to help him make positive and appropriate choices. These two elements are often in conflict, but there are ways you can break through and help, ensuring your child retains a sense of perspective and responsibility.
1. Hold back on the criticism – your child will take it as a personal attack and is likely to retreat further from you. What you can do is express a non-judgemental opinion about the fact you don’t like certain friends and why, remind your young adult-child that this is what grown-up self-expression is about. In this way, you offer your view and your reasons behind it, from and objective viewpoint. Your child will choose their own company, despite your opinions – what you are aiming for is to provide an alternative view that your child can (and will) reflect on in their own time
2. Invoke structure where you can – if your child is younger, it is easier to exert a degree of control over how much time they spend with certain friends. Rules like, no going out on a school night can help to distance your child from a core group who may be getting together every evening. Keep an eye out for your child lying about where they are going – trust is a two-way street, so if you catch them somewhere they weren’t supposed to be, you can bring in consequences and discuss how trust needs to be earned and responsibility proven
3. Set limits – there are some occasions when no matter what limits you set, your child will still manage to see and spend time with the people you would prefer lived on another planet. But helplessness is not the response of a caring parent. Kids may be defiant and rail against the idea of boundaries, but this shouldn’t stop you establishing them. The older your child becomes the less easy it is to enforce limits. Simply knowing where your expectations lie can often be enough to make a teenager stop and think, giving them long enough to prevent them getting themselves into trouble.
4. Address the Mean Friends Issue – sometimes our kids get drawn into an unsavoury crowd as a way to avoid attracting their negative attention. If a particular group is known for bullying, it can feel safer to join them than to remain as an external target. If you think this is happening with your child, it’s important to talk about it – your child may still be being bullied, just to a lesser extent. Neither situation is acceptable – work with your child on seeing that they deserve better. Help them to find a way of extricating themselves from the group before their self-esteem takes too big a hit
5. Be upfront about drink and drugs – at some point your child will be exposed to drink and drugs among their friends. How they respond can depend on what they understand to be societal and parental expectations around these issues. With no guidance, kids can be forgiven for thinking it’s safe to experiment and to continue using drugs. Help your child to make good choices in these moments, ensuring they are informed beforehand about the dangers. They may squirm with embarrassment as you talk, but the least you can do is try to mould their opinion in a positive way, making it harder for them to break away later from what they understand to be acceptable.