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Looks Like Trouble

What do you do if you don’t think your tween or teen child has picked a “good” friend? Once your kids leave elementary school, you can no longer make or avoid playdates at certain friends’ houses.

Middle school social anxiety is sometimes felt by kids and parents, but for different reasons. Middle school brings more complex social situations. It’s not always easy for a parent to see the underlying dynamics of a child’s social life.

Here are a few things to consider when deciding how to deal with a child’s friendship you dislike.

Don’t always go with your first impression. All kids can behave poorly. As parents, we have probably been apalled by our own child’s behavior on occasion.

Make your home inviting for your child to host friends. This gives you a chance to observe interactions and also have your own conversations with their friends. What’s more, “troublemaker” kids tend to shy away from situations where parents are around.

Left to their own devices for too long a period, even nice kids make bad decisions. Encourage pre-planned activities such as watching a movie or attending an event as well as just “hanging out” with friends.

Ask your child what he or she likes about a particular friendship. The answer will tell you what the attraction is—and it might not be what you think.

Encourage your child to make her own judgments based on the behavior of her friend. Give her things to think about, as opposed to lecturing. “How do you feel about what happened?” “What do you think is the right thing to do in that situation?” Questions can be food for thought, and children sometimes decide on their own to distance themselves from certain friends.

Encourage your child’s involvement with structured activities such as sports, theater and school clubs. He will be exposed to a larger group of kids to choose friends from and their time together is supervised. Emphasize your child’s skills and talents, helping him strengthen his own identity.

Deal with your child and his behavior. Make him responsible for his own choices instead of saying, “This is why I don’t like you spending time with Evan; he gets you in trouble.” Being held accountable may help your child rethink the friendship on his own.

Know when to say “enough.” There are occasions when parents need to be very clear with their child that she is not allowed to spend time with a particular person and that doing so will result in some kind of discipline. This should be reserved for safety concerns such as drug use, drinking alcohol and other dangerous or illegal activities.

All friendships are valuable learning tools. A “bad” friendship can provide lessons in loyalty, trust and reciprocity.
It’s common throughout the middle school years for kids to experiment socially and try on different images through their friendships. Experience teaches them what type of friendships they want to have. Parents can strive to guide while allowing their children learn as they go.

Cary and Tonja Rector are married and live with their children in Manlius. Cary is a licensed mental health counselor and Tonja is a licensed marriage and family therapist. Consult your own health care provider before making decisions affecting your family’s well-being. To comment on this article, write to editorial@familytimes.biz.


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