One day or another, your child might pick someone, as a friend, who is not to your likings. In fact, it is very common for parents to dislike their children’s friends. The old saying, birds of a feather flock together, is usually very true, especially in adolescence. Most of the time, adolescents worry about the way they look and act and, consequently, develop the need to belong to a group and be accepted. Moreover, the chosen group might be rewarding and reinforcing what they are already doing. Some children may also feel that negative influences strengthen their character and their ability to make smart choices. As a parent, it is harder to break through a group in which your child feels accepted and a sense of belonging. Peer influence also comes into play, in particular during childhood when the self is still being formed and some values still not rooted.
You might not want to cut off your child’s relationship, especially if they are close. You might also realize that you cannot pick your child’s friends and ending a relationship might not teach your child to handle complicated friendship dynamics. Also, criticizing their friends might backfire as they feel obliged to defend their chosen peer group that they might consider them to be more important than anybody else. Although, as a parent, your aim is to keep your child protected and safe, your child’s aim is to be with people who like him/her. As tricky as it may be, you still feel the need to keep your children away from toxic friendships. Here are some tips that might help whenever this happens:
- Avoid criticising their friends
This might not be a successful strategy as, very often, children seek to defend their friends whether or not they know you are right. Whenever you criticize their friends, children may be resistant and hostile, as though you criticized them and end up distancing themselves from you.
- Be clear about their behaviour
Focus on the behaviours you do not like, without directly judging them. For instance, tell your children that you do not like the way their friends behave and you do not want them to get in trouble as well or do the same.
- Use structure and set limits
Try to be more in control of where your children go and what they do and set limits if their friend’s behaviour is not in line with your values. Also, think of what consequences might follow if they are caught lying or they do not meet the limits set as they need to be held accountable for their actions.
- Reinforce family boundaries
Boundaries help your children know what is and what is not acceptable in your family as they help them understand why they cannot do something or behave like their friend.
- Talk to them about mean friends
If the group your children chose treats them badly, try to identify what they are getting out of it. Your children might be afraid of bullies and, therefore, had to join the group that you perceive as problematic and become bullies to feel safe.
The bottom line is that you cannot keep your children from making mistakes and bad choices. Therefore, as a parent, you need to guide them and teach them positive skills for healthy friendships throughout life.
Johanna Cutajar is a Master in Counselling graduate from the University of Malta. She works with children and adolescents as a counsellor within the education sector on a variety of issues including relationship issues, trauma, bereavement, transitions, and general mental health.
Drake-Mcdonough, C. (2018). Help! My Child’s Friend is a Bad Influence. Retrieved from https://www.coloradoparent.com/help-my-childs-friend-is-a-bad-influence/
Lehman, J. (n.d.). Does You Child Have Toxic Friends? How to Deal with the Wrong Crowd. Retrieved from https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/does-your-child-have-toxic-friends-6-ways-to-deal-with-the-wrong-crowd/