As parents, we put all our heart and soul into raising our children to be the best they can possibly be. We want them to be as healthy, successful and happy as possible. In their teen years, it can often seem as though their friends are fast becoming the most important people in their everyday life. It’s a little sad – that Mum and Dad are not their world anymore – but it’s life. However, as parents we do want to make sure these friends are not a bad influence on them, undoing all the hard work we’ve done over the years!
Dealing with the effects and consequences of a teen’s social connections is often a big test of parenting because as parents, we try to pass our philosophy and values to our children. If they now spend most of their free time with friends who tell them the opposite, this may weaken their belief in our philosophy and our values.
There can be all kinds of different reasons parents worry about “bad influence”. All of them start from friendships that challenge family values. Once teenagers question something that is important for the family, their parents feel threatened.
Your Changing Child
What do we mean? Some examples are food habits, manners, joint family interests, attitude towards money, attitude towards extended family, technology consumption, cultural values, health and future goals. These often change at least a little and sometimes it’s obvious that it is a result of the influence of their friends.
At this point, parents often start imagining their once angelic child is going to start eating nothing but junk, swearing like a sailor, chatting until 2 am and starting to lose (or put on) weight, to keep up with their friends, mainly because that’s what they often see portrayed in the media. But it’s actually rarely that bad.
However, after working very hard for years to establish sensible rules, good study habits, a stable routine and more, most parents find it hard to face the idea that their influence might be weakening and that friends that they are not quite sure of will become the ones who shape their teen’s world and that this new ‘competition’ does not share their values at all.
In fact, research shows the opposite. The influence of parents and the home environment is more critical to a teen’s development than any bad influence from peers. When asked who had the biggest impact on their beliefs and attitude, most young adults rank their parents in the first place, meaning that they were still listening as teenagers after all.
It is important to understand that even if you lose a few battles on food, computer habits or studying, you can still win the war and keep that “most influential” title.
How To Keep Your Most Influential Crown
So how do you go about keeping that coveted ‘most influential crown?’ By welcoming the challenges of adolescence and using them to strengthen your philosophy and project more confidence in your way of life. This confidence is crucial to our teens’ development, independence, and future success.
If they question your philosophy during their teens, because of what you see as the “bad influence” of their friends, but they know that you are there to support them anyway, you pass the test of trust and you remain important and influential. This way, you get much closer to keeping them healthy, happy and successful, which have been your goals since Day 1 anyway haven’t they?
Creating a competition where teens must choose between their friends and their parents fails the test of parenting. The usual result of such behavior on a parent’s part is that the teen ‘rebels’ even further – often with no encouragement from friends at all – to do the complete opposite of what their “controlling parents” want , and then your chance at being the good influence you want to be is probably lost. As might be the warm relationship you once had with your kid.
What If Their Friends Really Are Bad?
When helping a child to develop better eating habits – and actually when doing it yourself too – it often helps to substitute “bad” foods with “good” ones gradually. Simply eliminating a type of food altogether creates a feeling of loss. In the same way, if you are really sure that some of your teen’s friends are a bad influence rather than grounding them and taking those friendships away abruptly it is better to suggest alternative friends than to try to eliminate existing ones.
Encourage your teens to be with friends you prefer and do not talk badly about those you do not like. Encourage them to seek social connections in places you approve of – maybe in academic clubs at school or within activities at church. You can try to encourage them to spend more time in social settings where they are likely to make ‘better’ friends.
But there is one caveat here; a teenager is a young person, not a child. They do now have their own minds, and opinions and no, they are not always going to agree with you. But if they know they can have open discussions with you, that they can still confide in you if they get into trouble or need help your influence will hold strong.
Yes, the teen years are probably going to have all kind of rough patches for everyone – parents and kid – to get through but if you can keep that one original goal in mind – to try to make sure they are happy, healthy and successful – and can learn that things like the occasional weekend night spent on Facebook with their friends or the odd pink streak appearing in their hair does not signal the end of the world, then things will be much easier.
Discipline your teen when necessary – and there will be lots of times when it is – but do so with love rather than anger. Master that skill and the chances are good that when they are asked, perhaps in ten years time, who the biggest positive influences on their lives have been so far have been they too will happily answer “Mum and Dad”.