The Friendship Doctor

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Nothing but trouble: When a mom can’t stand her teen daughter’s best friend

More often than not parental misgivings about friends turn out to be misplaced

QUESTION

Hi Irene,

What should you tell a teen whose friend is nothing but trouble when she feels that the friend is her best friend in the whole world----but you already can see how bad her friend could be? Looking for advice for a mom who loves her daughter, but not always her daughter's friends.

Signed,
Julie

ANSWER

Hi Julie,

As a mom who has been there, I understand your concern. It's a natural instinct for a mother to try to protect her child. Adolescence is a time of exploration and teens often "try out" different ways of being, which includes picking different kinds of friends. Your question has been raised on this blog many times before. In response to one reader, I shared some tips for moms facing this dilemma. Other moms chimed in so I've expanded the list.

1) Your response depends on the age of your child. When kids are young, you're able to pick and choose their friends. By the time your child is a tween or teen, they should have the opportunity to choose their own friends.

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2) Resist the urge to jump in. Don't embarrass your teen or make him/her feel babied in front of a peer. Don't attempt to parent the "bad friend" - that's not your job. Wait until after the friend has left to have "the talk" and to discuss your feelings and impressions with your child.

3) Coach, don't tell. If you begin by badmouthing the friend your teen loves, you will immediately create a wedge between you and your daughter that will interfere with communication. Instead, start by finding out what your teen or tween likes about her friend. It will encourage her to talk and the answers may surprise you. You may even change your mind about the friend.

If you remain unconvinced that the friendship is a healthy one, express your concerns openly but don't tell your teen what to do. If you attempt to micromanage their friendships, they'll only resent your interference and get defensive. Believe it or not, they do hear what you say, which will lead them to question their own decisions when they're ready.

4) Maintain your focus on raising a strong, confident teen. Helping your teen to discover her strengths and to feel good about herself will enable her to make better choices. Encourage her to meet different types of friends through a variety of experiences in school and through sports, hobbies, and other activities in your community.

5) Share your own friendship stories. Don't make the mistake of perpetuating the myths that friendships are perfect, that you only need one best friend, and that all friendships will or should last forever. Share anecdotes from your own experiences that point out the potential pitfalls of friendships as well as the virtues.

6) You have both the right and rhw responsibility to set "house rules" and to explain them to your teen. For example, if you're uncomfortable with your kids' friends foraging through your refrigerator or kitchen cabinets uninvited, you need to say something to your child about it, hopefully before, but sometimes when the infraction occurs; ditto, if you don't want teens invading your bedroom or office. Teens need to have boundaries set for them.

Of course, if a "bad friend" is making illegal, immoral or destructive choices, parents need to keep a very close eye on the friendship. But more often than not, parental misgivings (particularly those based on appearances alone) turn out to be misplaced. The "bad friend" who we knew would one day be a felon matures into a Fulbright scholar. During the tween and teen years, young people are struggling to figure out who they are and who they want to be. It is to be expected that they will make some mistakes in choosing friends and, hopefully, they'll learn important life lessons about friendship along the way if parents are there to guide them.

My best,
Irene

 

Irene S. Levine, Ph.D., is a psychologist and professor of psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine. Her latest book is Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup With Your Best Friend.

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