Problems in Adolescent Friend's CIrcles
anonymous Asks ...
My daughter is 14 one of her friend’s got pregnant this year. Another of her friends was arrested for shoplifting before Christmas. They both seemed like good responsible kids to me. If the kids in her group are obviously up to no good should I try to influence my daughter so she does not spend as much time with them? As far as I know she has done nothing seriously wrong but I am worried that she is going to get tagged as a ‘bad apple’ just by association. My daughter has been very open and upfront and has told me everything that is going on (I think) so on the other hand I do not want to ‘reward’ her honesty with something she would consider a punishment.
Rev. Christopher Smith Says ...
Parents of adolescents are often concerned not only with their child's behaviors but also the behaviors of the friends of their child. The questioner is raising some for these very concerns. When the situation is not as open as this parent seems to believe things are, things are more difficult because the parent will be involved in a lot of second guessing. This type of situation raises several key parenting issues.
The biggest parenting issue is the parent's perspective on protecting their child. There are situations where it is appropriate for a parent to try and shield their child from the negatives in their society, especially if there is grave danger for an adolescent who interacted with that society (as might be seen in areas of high gang activity). Some parents will operate from the opposite end of the spectrum and allow their adolescent to be involved in whatever they want. Most parents operate somewhere in between these two extremes. On this middle ground, the parent will allow the adolescent to experience the reality of the world while protecting the adolescent from the fullness of the danger that they might be facing. From this perspective, each of the incidents that the adolescent experiences becomes a potential teaching situation. When the adolescent shares with the parent that a friend has become pregnant, there is a natural opening to be able to talk about a range of topics: sex, love, relationships, safe sex, responsible relationships, etc. When another friend is arrested for shoplifting, the conversation may be more focused on thinking through your actions to possible consequences, materialism, being satisfied with what you can afford and even thrill seeking. This can be hard for a parent to do but if done will allow the adolescent to deal with developmental tasks and be guided in mature decisions.
Another dimension of parenting is trying to protect you child or adolescent. IN so doing, a parent is constantly evaluating the people that are in their child's life. It is not uncommon for parents to miss some of the signs in their adolescent's life or in the life of their friends. Some things endure the test of time while other things are very particular for the present generation. It is important to remember that adolescents make mistakes and to be careful about judging the adolescent by the consequences of an isolated mistake. For example, an adolescent that is usually very responsible sexually (however you want to define that) may have a single instance of unprotected sex which results in either pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases. This single mistake does not mean that the adolescent is a bad person, although there will be consequences that have to be faced. This makes it harder to determine whether a particular group of adolescents are up to no good or not. Judging this is important in determining how to respond.
When your child becomes an adult, they will face situations that include other people doing things that they should not be doing. If your adolescent is able to experience some of that now and not follow their example, this lays a strong foundation for their adult life. In fact, how is your adolescent in terms of helping others who have gone the wrong way to address the situations they find themselves in? how do they still maintain a supportive friendship to the other person without condoning the negative behavior? These are important lessons that they can learn. There is the possibility that they will be seen as guilty by association by some people, but is your adolescent doing the right thing and is your adolescent making good choices? There will be people that will see this. Of course, there will be situations that are serious enough that you will want your adolescent to sever ties so that the guilt by association does not occur.
Finally, fostering an open relationship with your adolescent is really important. In a case where you are simply trying to protect your child, it is very important to allow your adolescent the space that they need to be able to share with you. It is also important to have a certain level of trust between you, a trust that is based on the pattern of your relationship and not on what you think might be possibly going on without any real basis for this fear.
Parenting an adolescent is not an easy task. Being the adolescent in that relationship is also not easy. However, if you remember that your child needs to develop the skills they will need in adulthood and that you may need to be on the lookout for more serious problems that can arise, you will be able to find a balance in your response. AS you do, gauge the roles that your adolescent's peers play in your adolescent's life. Doing this on your own, or with the help of a qualified family therapist, will help you and your adolescent on your paths to wholeness and peace.