Once your children reach their teenage years, you will find that they begin to look beyond the family circle for approval and acceptance. This is not an issue if they become friends with a positive peer group. One in which friends are supportive of each other, encourage each other to do better and generally bring out the best in each other. In this situation, your teen’s friends would be a good influence and both you as a parent and their peer group would reinforce each other’s messages.
Things however can very quickly move in the opposite direction if your teen ends up mixing with a bad crowd. Your once cheerful and positive child may become anti-social and perhaps even experiment with dangerous behaviours and situations.
It’s difficult for most parents to deal with this because it puts parents in direct conflict with a teen’s need for social acceptance. Forcing teens to choose you versus their friends might lead them to pick their friends in a show of defiance and rebellion. In reality, it doesn’t have to be an “us” vs “them” scenario, especially if you follow some of these methods.
Get to Know Their Friends
You won’t know for sure if the cause of your teen’s new and negative behaviour is their peer group unless you know who they are spending time with.
It could be that the changes you see in your teen are due to other factors. Perhaps they are acting out against academic stress or they are depressed or conflicts and family problems at home are causing your teen to misbehave.
Encourage your teens to talk about their friends. Open up your home to them and get to know them too. Reach out and get to know the parents of their friends. As you do so, you will be able to observe if they are a negative influence and confirm your concerns before taking any further action.
Stick to Specifics and Avoid a Critical Tone
Nothing will make you lose your teens faster than adopting a critical tone and telling them that you don’t like their new friends. This automatically puts you in one of those “us vs them” situations which you definitely want to avoid.
Instead, stick to specifics. Try to have a discussion around any negative behaviours you may have observed, give concrete examples and ask your teens to tell you what they think and if there are more appropriate ways that they might have responded in. It helps if you know their friends personally so that you have real examples to share and discuss.
Give Them a Way Out
Your teen may not actually want to participate in some of the bad behaviours their friends engage in, but they might feel that they don’t have a way out of the situation. In this case, it helps if you can give them a way out. Let them know that they can always use you as an excuse for not wanting to go somewhere or do something. Tell them you are willing to be the “bad” guy or their “backup” in any tough situations. They might not always use this card but it always helps for them to know that you are happy to stand in and support them.
Whether it’s in situations involving their friends or just themselves, you should be clear about the limits you need to set. If there is a “be at home by 9pm” curfew, then whether they break it with friends or on their own, natural and logical consequences need to follow. The same applies to damaging property, experimenting with substances and a whole host of other dangerous and unacceptable behaviours.
Change Their Peer Group
If despite your best attempts, they continue to be negatively influenced by their peer group, you may have to take more intensive steps. Try to introduce them to extra-curricular activities or school clubs which have a more positive social presence. If necessary, have a discussion with their school and consider switching classes. Be certain however, that it’s the peer group which is causing their bad behaviour and not some other underlying cause as all that would happen in this case, would be a resurfacing of the same issues in a different environment.
Approach these issues with patience and fortitude. The calmer you remain, the more likely you are to find a good solution.
• Be certain that your teen’s peer group is the true cause of the negative behaviours you see. If they are not, understand the real issue and address that first.
• Before making any judgements, get to know their friends individually and understand the specific reasons behind your dislike of them.
• Don’t belittle your teen. Instead take a sensitive approach and try to re-inforce his or her sense of self esteem. The more confident your children are, the less like they are to give in to peer pressure and do something which they know is wrong and which will disappoint you