Question: My 12-year-old son and his friends are always joking…
There is always one friend in every group. The one that has the potential to lead even the strongest-minded kid astray. The one who comes to pick up your kid and, unbeknownst to you, there’s a fifth of vodka waiting to be guzzled in her car. The one that tells your kid to tell you that they are going to the movies when, in fact, they are going to be drinking from a red solo cup at an unsupervised party. OK, maybe your teen doesn’t have toxic friends, so this issue won’t resonate with you. High five, you’re doing something that leaves many of us parents befuddled. You have been keeping the toxic kids manageable in your teen’s peer group, or you’ve succeeded at managing your teen who has toxic friends.
It’s not an easy feat. There’s something about the ‘bad’ kid that’s attractive. They oftentimes crackle with dangerous excitement and it can be very alluring to a teen. Toxic kids aren’t always ‘bad’ kids, they just have a habit of making dangerous decisions and convincing their friends that it will be fun. Bad fun sometimes is presented as fun, even for the kid who gets their excitement by living vicariously through others. Sometimes, the ‘good’ kid will happen to go along for that joy ride, despite their internal moral alarm sounding off. Somehow, we parents always find out when our teens do something out of character, and that is when we need to gently step in and set ground rules for when they decide to hang out with that toxic friend.
First of all, the kiss of death is telling your teen that you just don’t like that friend. There’s something about those words that make the person in question even more appealing. Instead, maybe have a discussion and ask your teen how he truly feels about his friend’s behavior.
Set the boundaries. Maybe only allow your child to see this friend when she comes to your house, or set an earlier curfew when your teen is going out with him. Maybe only allow your teen to go out on weekends since school nights are for studying and doing extracurricular activities. Let your teen know that, even if he isn’t doing anything wrong and the friend gets into trouble, he’s guilty by association. It’s the hard truth but, if you trust your teen, then guide them gently into choosing to opt out of the friendship.
Forbidding your child to hang out with the toxic friend could result in sneaking behind your back. If all else fails, honesty is the best policy. It’s okay to be blunt and to explain to your teen why you don’t really approve of the friendship. Kids are stubborn and do not necessarily want to admit that they know their parents are right. Chances are, however, teens know when their friends are doing things that they shouldn’t be partaking in. Drinking and driving, underage drinking … kids learn at a young age that these are potential recipes for disaster.
Lastly, always have an open line of communication. Set the expectations you have of your child in stone and have the alcohol talk with your teen on a regular basis. Teens need to have an arsenal of knowledge and to know that their actions come with consequences, even when they are just along for the ride.
How do you manage your teen’s toxic friend? What advice do you have for parents of teens?