It is inevitable that you will, over the course of your teen’s adolescence, dislike at least one of their friends if not more. These feelings may at first present as a nagging gut feeling like a pit in your stomach at one extreme or an active dislike at the other extreme. And, sometimes you won’t even know why you feel a sense of dislike for a particular friend. I can assure you though that the feeling will be very present and will not subside easily. You will struggle with how to deal with this set of feelings, when to deal with them or even whether or not to deal with these feelings at all. I need to warn you that insulting your teen’s friends is so very tricky because when you insult your child’s friend your child feels like you are insulting her/him directly. Trust me on this. I’ve been there personally and professionally. In an effort to help you navigate this terrain a bit more successfully I am going to share some tips with you that should make the journey smoother. We all need help sustaining good communication and warm feelings between us and our teens.
- Find out why your teen likes the friend that you don’t like. Ask her. You may find out some very interesting and surprising information. Perhaps this friend understands your child in a way that others don’t. Remember, we have all kinds of friends for different reasons. Some make us laugh,others get us etc.
- When you are around your teen and the friend do a lot of observing. You need to look for both the positive and negative in the interactions. Observation may lead to an understanding about the chemistry in the relationship. It is always helpful to have evidence that helps you make informed decisions rather than making assumptions.
- If your teen shares some information about the friend that is less than positive please do not use this information against the friend unless you are concerned about your teen’s safety and/or the friend’s safety. Even in that case you shouldn’t be using this information to berate anyone. My hope is that you would use it to help your teen and/or the friend.
- Have the friend over to your house. Familiarity is a good thing. As mentioned earlier, presumptions and assumptions are often wrong.
- In any case and in every case support your teen’s efforts to expand her social circle. Help provide opportunities. It is never a good idea to put one’s proverbial friendship eggs in one basket.
- Do not forbid your teen to spend time with the friend unless there are safety/health/danger issues present. Forbidding, as we all know, often creates the opposite effect and makes the heart grow fonder.
- Do not take it upon yourself to be cool, aloof and/or less than kind to the friend. This is not your relationship or your role. Tread lightly, mindfully and carefully.
- Keep in mind that friendships often have a shelf life during these adolescent years. The friendship may not be a long-lived relationship and may therefore not require you to get bent out of shape or even excessively concerned.
- It is a big mistake to assume that the friend is influencing your child negatively. Think outside of the box. Perhaps the reverse is true and it is your child who is the negative influence. I know that we hate to think of our kids this way but they too are human and not flawless.
- Please try not to base your feelings and thoughts about this friend solely on the friend’s history. Individuals of all ages change and everyone deserves a second chance.
There is yet another scenario to be aware of. The reverse may occur and you may like your teen’s friend too much. Be aware of this because this too may cause a rift between you and your teen. You see your teen may feel resentful if she feels that you favor a friend over her. Please be aware of the following.
- It is always a mistake to compare your teens to others particularly to their friends even and particularly when you are suggesting that she/he be more like the friend. Ouch. You may not have meant any harm here but the result may be that the friend disappears from the friend group of from visits to your home. Your child wants to be your favorite. That makes sense,right?
- Do not get too chummy with your teen’s friend. You are the mother not a friend, remember. Of course, you should welcome the kids into your home but certainly don’t go overboard. Remember easy does it.
- It is not necessary for you to make your friend preferences known to your child. Your child has probably already figured this out. You see your teens are always watching you.
- It is generally not a good idea to turn one of your teen’s friends into the designated confidante who gives you the inside scoop about your teen’s life. The outcome here will not be a good one. I can promise you that. Trust me on this one.
- Sometimes less is more. Sometimes similar treatment is best. Try to treat all of the friends similarly and this should have the intended effect of improving your relationship with your child. That is after all the relationship that is most important.
Dr. Greenberg’s work can be found on drgreenberg.com.
Dr. Barbara Greenberg, PhD is an adolescent, child and family psychologist who practices in Fairfield County, Connecticut, after 21 years of running an inpatient adolescent unit at a private psychiatric hospital in New York. She also blogs as “The Teen Doctor” for Psychology Today and is a consultant for other magazines on a variety of mental health and relationship issues, as well as frequently sharing her expertise on television news programs. You can find her at drbarbaragreenberg.com and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.