John Townsend, Ph.D.

One of the absolute requirements for a healthy teen is healthy friendships.

Adolescents are social beings. They are curious about others, want support and understanding, and like people to identify with. Parents and family are simply not enough at this stage, and actually that is a good thing. It is the stage of life in which teens are preparing themselves for college, jobs, careers, marriage and long lasting relationships.  The better their friendships now, the better their future. Unfortunately, teens can often not use good judgment about the people they are hanging out with, and who can influence them in negative ways. Add to that the accelerant of social media, when a teen can instantly be connected to many, many people, and you can have a problem. Here are some tips to help you help your adolescent make the right choices in relationships.

Find out where the healthy teens are and take your teen there. No matter where you live, there are healthy positive adolescents. They aren’t perfect, and they have rough edges, but they are good-hearted, kind and responsible. Where are the ones in your community?  If your teen has no idea, check with her school and ask. It might be a campus organization, or a community group, a sports team, a music association, or a healthy church. But make a ground rule that your teen needs to be interacting with good kids.

Make your home a place for the right kids. Invite kids to your house for parties, homework study groups and other events. Be one of the places they hang out. A couple friend of mine recently moved themselves and their three teens from a small town community to a major metropolitan area. They found that the other parents were unsure what to do, and had no ways to get kids together. So they got their kids involved in sports teams, and set up team parties for the players, their parents and the coaches. Nothing had ever happened like that at the school, and parents thanked them for getting things moving in that area.

Get the root of why your teen is attracted to toxic kids. It is unsettling when your adolescent is drawn to druggies, conduct disorders, slackers and other negative types.  While it’s good that your teen likes everyone, and has friends in all groups, it’s a problem when he prefers a group that will bring him down and get him in trouble. Talk to your teen about this and find out what the attraction is. Say, “I’m not judging your friends. But I want to know what it is you like about them, and what you get out of the relationship when you’re with them.”

Sometimes a teen feels that there is so much structure and so many rules in the home that he needs people who are more free. This might mean it’s a good time to evaluate if your home rules are healthy and balanced, or need some changing.  You may need to be more consistent, have more ground rules, or less. At other times, a teen may pick a friend whose struggles mirror some problem he is having that he can’t talk about in the home. For example, a teen who picks strugglers because she can’t talk about her own struggles at home without a lecture. This might be a sign for you to listen more and lecture less.

Don’t prohibit the time with the less desirable teens unless they are truly dangerous or toxic. There are kids that are a “stay away” group. They are serious problems and dangerous. But there is a group in between the “OK” kids and the dangerous kids who you shouldn’t have a hard rule against them having friendships. If you do this, you run the risk of a pushback against you, involving lying and sneaking to see them. Limit the time with the “in between” kids.

Keep abreast of social media. You can’t unscramble this egg; social media is here to stay, and it has many good qualities as well as things to be concerned about. Get an IT person from your school or community to educate you on being able to check in and monitor social media on all devices: phones, laptops and tablets. Don’t be a smother parent, but don’t be ignorant as well. If your teen is choosing negative relationships through the media, she loses the privilege and has to earn it back.

Your teen, deep inside, wants good kids around him. Continue making your home a place where he can have those relationships.