Kids don't come with a manual and neither does parenting. For the most part, good communication gets you through the rough times and helps to divert disaster.
One dilemma that tends to stymie most parents centers around the friends your child chooses. Most of the time, kids make great choices, but sometimes the friends that choose your child are not great choices. And, for some unknown reason, your child cannot get away from these types of friends. These friends are what I refer to as "toxic friends." My two daughters both experienced situations with these types of friends; even though it was brief, it wasn't as brief as it could have been had I been more aware.
If you give a situation time, it will usually work itself out. With toxic friends, however, that is not always true—so an intervention is necessary. Before you can intervene, you need to know what you are looking for. To you as a parent, the toxic friend may appear like the nice kid next door, yet, he says nasty things when no adult is around, and he makes your child feel incompetent if he tells his parent.
Here are a few more signs that your child may be involved with a toxic friend:
- If your child becomes totally obsessed with pleasing this friend, there is a good chance the power balance has shifted and your child is being used.
- If your child's friend treats his parent or any adult with disdain, pay attention. This is not a good sign as they have issues with authority.
- Your child's new friend doesn't abide by your child's rules. For example, if you tell your child no communicating after 9 pm and this friend continually calls or texts, saying rules are stupid or for little kids, this is not a friendship you want to nurture.
- Your child is teased or belittled in any way by this friend.
- The friend tries to get your child to act rude or disobedient at school.
- The friend wants to keep secrets all the time.
- Your child's friend is rude in public. All kids make mistakes, but if you notice this kid is a brat in public, can you imagine what is going on in their home?
- Your child's friend picks on "lesser people" or has a bully attitude.
- Your child's new friend has angry outbursts.
- Your child begins acting out, swearing, and acting belligerent or indignant (unless someone is modeling that behavior in your home).
It is much better if you can prevent these relationships from forming rather than trying to break them up once they have bonded. To end these types of relationships, you need to have your child see the light and understand what is happening. Your child also needs to know she is supported by you, as these types of friends often have power over your child with other friends. It is always advised to work on changing the family dynamics so your child will become more and more difficult for her toxic friend to control.
Here are a few suggestions that may help:
- Begin by having the toxic friend over for dinner (it is even better if the parents can come). Usually you don't need to do more; the whole situation becomes very clear to your child.
- Talk with your child about their toxic friend's behavior only. Try not to attack the friend, but say what you see and why it is unappealing. Be honest and firm with your observations.
- Structure your child's life as much as possible. Your child will need an excuse at times and if they are able to say, "My parents will ground me for life or take my car away if I do that," it helps them save face.
- Set limits. Keep your child's curfew and follow through with consequences. If your child begins suffering for their toxic friend, he may wake up sooner rather than later, asking why he likes this person who gets them into trouble.
- Many times your child will choose to hang out with someone you don't like as a form of rebellion. If depression, anger, or acting out become an issue, it is wise to seek counseling for your child as well as yourself. Toxic friends have the power to turn a once harmonious family into a chaotic situation very quickly.
The tween/teenage years are relatively short, but the decisions made have dire consequences for your child. Engage with your child; know where they are, who their friends are, and who the parents of those friends are. Social networking has many advantages, but also many dangers. Toxic people think of toxic ways to use social networking. Self-esteem is fragile in the tween/teen years; one toxic relationship can destroy your child's self esteem for years to come.
Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC, is a licensed psychotherapist and co-author with Janine J. Sherman, of Start Talking: A Girl's Guide for You and Your Mom About Health, Sex or Whatever.