Every parent wants their child to have plenty of friends—after all, those high school hallways are a lot less scary when you have a support system walking down them with you. But what do you do when you simply don’t like one of your teen’s friends?
”Adolescence is a time of exploration and teens often ‘try out’ different ways of being, which includes picking different kinds of friends,” says Irene S. Levine, PhD, a psychologist and friendship expert. “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.”
Here’s how to do just that for your teen.
Don’t forbid the friendship (for now). While you can definitely let your child know your feelings, avoid forbidding him from seeing this pal, says Dr. John Duffy, a clinical psychologist, teen expert, and author of Radical Optimism for Raising Teens and Tweens. “Kids today will tend not to follow this direction—quite the contrary. To make matters worse, you as parent may very well end up in the enemy camp, and this is an unpleasant, helpless, powerless place from which to parent.”
Ask questions. Dr. Duffy suggests trying to find out why your child is drawn to this person, and what works for them about the relationship. “I find that if a parent can lay aside his or her judgment, they may learn some valuable information not just about the relationship, but also about the core nature of the child,” he says.
Don’t trash talk. “This creates the forbidden fruit phenomenon, which propels the already naturally rebellious teen to run directly to the person their parents dislike,” says Dr. Richard Horowitz, parenting coach and author of Family Centered Parenting.
Encourage other interests. Dr. Levine recommends maintaining your focus on raising a strong, confident teen by helping your child discover her strengths. “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.”
Share your 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, says Dr. Levine. Share anecdotes from your own experiences that point out the potential pitfalls of friendships, as well as the virtues.
Set limits. Keep your child’s curfew and follow through with consequences, says Mary Jo Rapini, a psychotherapist and co-author of Start Talking: A Girl’s Guide for You and Your Mom about Health, Sex or Whatever. “If your child begins suffering for their toxic friend, they may wake up sooner rather than later, asking why they like this person who gets them into trouble.”