While many friendships are positive and motivating, others can lead teens in the wrong direction. This is why it’s important to maintain a healthy relationship (“voice”) in your teen’s life.
As parents, you will occasionally see warning signs that signal a friendship may need to be cooled, for the better interests of your child. You will usually observe the destructive effect of a negative peer influence by changes in your teen’s attitude, respect, honor, energy, language, or if he or she begins disconnecting from home and family.
Creating distance between your teen and a bad friendship requires a delicate and strategic approach. While increasing control may seem a natural reaction, it can actually be more productive in the long run to increase communication. If you can gently ask the right questions, it’s possible to help your teen discover for himself or herself that maybe this friend isn’t such a great “friend” after all.
Here are some warning signs you can teach them to look for in their friends:
- They ridicule your positive choices, values, and interests.
- They are highly critical, negative, and disrespectful—seeing the worst in people
- They are involved with pornography, cults, or substance abuse.
One of the most valuable lessons we can reinforce to our children is that everyone isn’t meant to be their friend. Consider some pro-active strategies for helping your kids look for (and find!) positive friendships:
1. Help them develop a healthy self-concept. Teens who have a strong sense of self-worth are infinitely better equipped to recognize detrimental influences from their friends and to stand up for their values and beliefs.
2. Train them how to cultivate good relationships. The stages of relationship development go like this:
- Prospect (a potential friend)
- V.I.P. (Very Important Person)
Only a few will make it to the VIP stage—and that’s the way it should be. Help your teens understand that true friendship is a process that takes time, trust, and timing!
3. Teach them to recognize inner motivations. Why would they want to get involved with activities that violate their values? Does your teen know how to self-reflect and ask the hard questions? Have you modeled this for him or her?
4. Role-play getting out of bad situations. Practice makes perfect! Maybe they won’t ever encounter them, but equip your kids just in case. What will they say? How will they react? What is their exit strategy?
Soon your teens will be out of high school, away from their secure relationships and off on their own. They will need to forge new friendships. Do they know how to recognize the right potential friends, and steer clear of destructive ones?
Dennis Trittin and Arlyn Lawrence are the co-authors of Parenting for the Launch: Raising Teens to Succeed in the Real World, and the What I Wish I Knew at 18: Life Lessons for the Road Ahead Leadership and Life Skills Course (available as stand-alone book for teens or curriculum in standard and Christian editions). They speak and provide resources for parents, teens, educators, and mentors about building “life literacy” in children and young adults. You can follow them on Facebook and Twitter!
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