When a Teen Hangs With the Wrong Crowd

Friends play an important role in a teen’s life.

While not being socially connected can leave a teen more prone to isolation and depression, having good friends can boost self-esteem and improve communication skills; and some of those friendships can last a lifetime. On the flip side, having bad friends can lead to risky decision-making, bad behaviors and poor academic performance. So, basically, having no friends sucks and having bad friends can screw things up, but having good friends rocks.

However, finding good friends can be hard for teens who struggle socially, and falling into the wrong crowd is easy. Trying to pull a teen away from these potentially destructive relationships can be like trying to separate two powerful magnets. Once teens find peer acceptance, they don’t want to let it go. They will do whatever it takes to fit in, even if it means going against their parents’ wishes.

[Read: 5 Ways to Help Your Teen Develop a Sense of Purpose.]

In some cases, teens seem to have nothing in common with their new friends, but desire something different. These teens will often abandon their good friends in search of new and exciting relationships. Adolescence and the tyranny of extremes can truly leave parents in a quandary about what to do next. Long gone are the childhood days of arranging play dates and orchestrating friendships. Teens, as opposed to young children, like to be in the driver’s seat. But if the teen is a reckless driver, parents may be left frantically searching for ways to keep the teen on the straight and narrow path.

So what’s a parent to do? First, it’s important to identify if there is reason to be concerned about who your child is associating with. These are some signs your child may be hanging with the wrong crowd:

  • Suspicious behavior. Teens who are up to no good usually sneak behind their parents’ backs and behave suspiciously.
  • Tanking grades. Teens who get involved with the wrong crowd often begin to neglect academic responsibilities. Their homework assignments don’t get completed, projects don’t get turned in and they may arrive to class late or even skip classes.
  • Snarky attitude. It’s certainly not out of character for many teens to roll their eyes, sigh loudly or do other things to show when they’re annoyed. But add a group of snarky teens to the mix, and the result can be a back-talking disrespectful tirade.
  • Avoiding interests and hobbiesWhen teens hang out with peers who are a poor influence, they tend to withdraw from what they once enjoyed doing. They become more interested in impressing their new friends and doing the things their friends like instead.
  • Dissing old friends. Teens who find a new peer group tend to neglect old friends in favor of the new and may jeopardize positive relationships.

[Read: How to Help Your Teen Cope With the Death of a Friend.]

Of course, if you determine your teen is hanging with the wrong crowd, you have to decide how to handle the issue. While there’s not one approach that works for all situations, here are some things to consider and strategies you can employ:

  • Establish clear, consistent ground rules for new friendships. For example, parents need to meet their teens’ new friends prior to letting them hang out. Now, as teens get older, this becomes increasingly difficult, especially if teens form these toxic relationships at work or school. The good news is that teens like to hang out beyond the confines of these environments, so that gives parents a little leverage to work with.
  • Meet the new friends. It’s a good idea to show teens that their relationships are important. Hosting a cookout or pizza party gives parents an opportunity to learn more about who their kids’ new friends are.
  • Meet the parents. Equally important to getting to know your teens’ friends is getting to know their friends’ parents. Although this may be awkward at first, arrange to get a cup of coffee or plan another way to meet. If the teens are at a concert or some other event, make it a point to be there for pickup or when dropping your kid off, and be present and out of the car to conveniently meet the parents.
  • Don’t be quick to judge. Parents should take time to really get to know these new friends individually. Some teens may come from a disruptive or dysfunctional home, but that doesn’t mean they represent the wrong crowd. Oftentimes, in these instances, kids desire any kind of attention, good or bad. If parents can be accepting, then the teen may opt to get on the right track. Equally, once these teens have a good relationship with their friend’s parent, they may not want to do anything to jeopardize that relationship.
  • Choose your words wisely. Parents should be extra careful not to put down or criticize a teen’s new friends, since doing so can spur rebellion. At the same time, parents should not ignore concerns. If, for instance, parents are worried about changes in their teen’s behavior, they should say something like, “I noticed some concerning changes ever since you started hanging out your new friends, and I wanted to speak with you about them.”

The adolescent years are already a turbulent time, and toxic relationships can make this period even more difficult. It’s OK for parents to be scared and want to rush to save their teens from self-destruction, but that may not be what they need. They may need an opportunity to scout things out for themselves and make their own decisions. In their quest for autonomy, teens are going to make mistakes.

[See: 10 Concerns Parents Have About Their Kids’ Health.]

If you are a parent who is fighting the magnetic pull of the wrong crowd, don’t fret. Teens have numerous influences in their lives, and there is no greater influence than the parent-child relationship.

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