Recently, Power of Families received the following question:
“My 13-year-old son has some friends that I’m worried about. They talk about girls in a way that isn’t very nice and swear (but usually just when they don’t think I’m listening), and the only thing they ever want to do is play Xbox or games on their phones. I’m worried that if I tell my son that I don’t want him hanging out with those boys, he’ll just want to hang out with them more. Any ideas for me?”
I’ll share a few initial ideas on this question and we invite you to add your thoughts and ideas in the comments below. Let’s all work together to help this mom!
When children are young, we as parents have a lot of control over who they spend their time with. After all, we are the ones arranging play dates and acting as taxi drivers. However, as children grow and began to enter the more autonomous teen years we can find ourselves with less control over the friends they are choosing. Sometimes we aren’t pleased with their choice of friends.
As the mom in the scenario above mentioned, she is afraid that by telling her son not to hang out with his friends, it might actually have the opposite effect. (Something that would not be outside the realm of possibility for a teenager if history is any indicator!) However, she clearly is not happy with some of what happens when these particular friends are around. The following are two suggestions for addressing this issue:
SEEK TO UNDERSTAND
I have found that many times as a parent I am quick to jump to conclusions regarding the choices my child is making. Usually this means that I haven’t taken the time to sit down and really listen to my child. In her post, “The #1 Thing I Gave My Teenager, And It’s Free”, Damara Simmons discusses the importance of listening to our kids. Generally speaking, when we come from a place of seeking to understand, vs, dictating, we will be more likely to have a mutually beneficial outcome. In this case, seeking to understand why your child is choosing the friends they are will help to understand how better to address the problem.
A good way to approach the topic and help your child see what you want them to see without you lecturing them is to ask questions like “What do you enjoy about spending time with ______” and “It seems like you and ________ have a good time together but I’m wondering, does _______ do or say anything that sort of bothers you?” You could also say something like “I remember when I was 13, a lot of the kids I knew started using language that I didn’t really like and sometimes they would talk about subjects that didn’t seem good. I’m sure you’re seeing some of that given your age. What sort of bad language and inappropriate subjects are you seeing going on with kids you know?”
Children do better when they know clearly what the expectations are for a situation. In this scenario, it may mean reminding the child that in your home swearing or discussing girls in an unkind way is not ok. Ideally, the child will set those expectations with their friends. A simple way to implement this could be to discuss with your son or daughter what the expectations are and ask whether they would like to make those clear to their friends or would prefer for you to do it.
While the easy solution would be for your child to choose to hang out with different friends, that might not always be the choice they make – and it might not actually be the best choice. In my experience, situations like this have the potential to have a positive outcome that may not be obvious at first glance. As a parent of 6 teens and young adults, I can say that over the years we have had all sorts of children in our home. Sometimes they weren’t our first choice in friends, but many times we were surprised at the blessings that came from including them in our lives. While we have every right as parents to set rules and expectations we also could stand to benefit from not being too quick to judge or assume. By working together, vs against we are more likely to have a positive outcome.
For more ideas on handling situations like this consider reading this book summary: “A Survival Guide to Parenting Teens”.
Please add your answers to this important question in the comments below!