What to do if your child's friend is a bad influence
When to step in and how to do it.
Watching your child carve out friendships and build relationships will at times fill you with pride — look at your little person, out there being a person.
But what happens when you're not exactly a fan of the friends they find? Or when you think their behavior is being adversely affected by their peers? Or worse, when their friendships seem toxic or upsetting?
There's a fine line between support and interference and you may be met with resistance to either or both. So, what do you do when you're child's friend is a bad influence?
Here's what the experts have to say.
1. Validate their feelings
According to Child Psychologist Helena Goodwill, asking your child how their friend makes them feel is a vital step in allowing them to open up: “Children may have conflicting feelings about friendships in their life. As a parent, it is important to acknowledge the mixed feelings. Understanding these contrasting feelings will help your kid understand their own personal boundaries. If they feel bad when their friend is rude to the teacher, for example, that will help them understand that rudeness is something they aren’t OK with. Help them come up with a solution if their friend oversteps—for example, I can stand up for someone else, say something to my friend about it, remove myself from the situation or give myself a break. These are the strategies that I would encourage first."
2. Ask their opinion
Child Clinical Psychologist Dr. Sarah O’Doherty advises encouraging your child to make up their own minds: "It might be a good time over the summer to start a regular conversation about expectations when he goes back to school and an open-ended discussion about friendships in general and what they mean. Ask your child’s opinion about what constitutes a good friend and work on getting him to start thinking about equality, reciprocity and different qualities in different friends."
3. Reinforce your values
Boundaries will also help when your child wants to know why they cannot do something or behave like their friend, according to Mercedes Samudio, a licensed clinical social worker and author of Shame-Proof Parenting. "Chat about your family’s boundaries without placing blame on other parents or guardians. Explore the idea that other families make choices for their family, and that’s their business. Our family believes XYZ, or our family doesn’t do ABC, and it’s OK to be different, even if we don’t always understand it.”
4. Avoid criticising
Your impulse might be to criticise your child's friend, however Kristin Wilson, Clinical Director of the Newport Academy for teenagers with mental health struggles says it's best to avoid the temptation. "Teenagers can be very defensive of their friends, and you don't want to engage in a power struggle. By criticising, you're only going to make the relationship stronger. 'Instead, make clear statements about your observations of how their friends are acting. For example, 'I don't like the way she talks back to adults'. Next, review your expectations about your own child's behavior and let them know that you will hold them accountable for their actions, regardless of their friends' behavior."
5. Set limits
If all else fails, before you impose an outright ban on your child's friendship, Wilson suggests setting some limits. "If you know your child's friend is engaging in behavior that you don't agree with, set limits on how much time they spend with that child and where they see them. You might, for instance, decide that they can only see a particular friend in your home so you can keep an eye on them or cut ties altogether."