The Wrong Crowd: How To Help Your Teen Navigate A Negative Influence

So your teenager is hanging with the wrong crowd. Maybe it’s those kids with ‘questionable’ appearances that hang out in front of the convenience store…or the kids who are known for skipping school to get “stoned.” Whatever the case may be, the teenagers of today live in a highly-influenced world charged by social media postings and hashtags. 

The easiest thing to do might be to sell the house and move to another community where everything is perfect. The problem with that is, unless that community is on another planet, your teen will find replacements for the peers you dread seeing them hang around with. There are no quick fixes to this concern; however, if you trust in following the process, your teen is more likely to take the “high road” on the pathway to their ultimate goals.

Be “In The Know”

Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter…As parents of a teen in today’s climate, it is necessary to know what all of these are. Although some parents see these forums as a tool to connect with old friends and family members, it is also a portal to stay abreast of your teen’s development. Pay attention to the small things. Is your teen dressing differently, swearing more, spending time with new peers that you don’t know much about? 

Once we become disconnected with the changes in our teens, we become disconnected with who they are and what they identify with. Ask open-ended questions, show interest, and be nonjudgmental. If you have a strong suspicion that the new kid next door your teen is spending all his/her time with is bad news, invite this new kid over and get to know him/her. You’ll learn more about your teen and their peers when they are comfortable enough to be open and get to know you, rather than making judgmental statements that aren’t necessarily based on facts. Setting firm limits is good practice as a parent; however, transparency is also important. 

If teens changed their peer group every time a parent requested it, life would be a cake walk. Unfortunately, the reality is that when parents push, teens instinctively push back. Don’t pass judgment onto your teen’s friends until you have reason. If your teen suspects you are blowing hot air at them and he/she knows you are wrong, your credibility goes out the window. Their friends are their comfort zones and a form of their identity.

Reel Them In

If teens feel they (or their decisions) are being judged, they tend to pull back and close the door on the connection with their parents. Open the door and invite them in. Get to know your teen’s friends and their parents. Make an effort to say hello and reach out to them. The ability of a parent to communicate is a strong indicator of their values. If a teen’s parents don’t want to communicate, don’t respond to inquiries, or simply don’t know their teens whereabouts, it’s likely a bad sign.

Don’t Panic

Don’t panic! Your teen will not necessarily crash and burn overnight because they are hanging out with one of the “bad” kids. Think about what you can control versus what you can’t. You can’t control if your teen hangs out with negative peers at lunch, befriends them, or engages with them at social functions. You can, however, hold firm expectations and follow through. 

Look at the facts: Are your teen’s grades sliding? Is your teen using drugs? Is your teen coming home late? Are your teen’s extracurricular activities beginning to suffer? If not, there may be no need to worry. If your teen is able to manage his/her behaviors, you may not have to worry that this negative influence will turn your teen’s life upside down. If you are seeing some of these changes, then it’s time to set firm boundaries and clear consequences. 

Hopefully, your teen will be the one to identify that negative peers are contributing to his/her change in behaviors. This is where your teen get’s to take responsibility, and when needed, end toxic relationships. Avoid power struggles with your teen, and stay consistent with expectations.

Empower

Self-esteem is central to a teen’s development. If you determine your teen’s peer relationships are, in fact, detrimental, begin to explore why they’ve chosen to identify with that negative peer/group. Has your teen developed an identity? Is he/she linked to positive peer groups and/or pro-social activities? Teens who participate in competitive sports are surrounded by other like-minded teens. As a result, they tend to build an identity similar to that of their peers. 

Teens who end up in negative peer groups also feel that they have something in common with them. They may have rocky family dynamics, have a learning disability, perform poorly in school, or may have been rejected by other popular groups. Teens who don’t feel they “fit in” or get the attention they need will find ways to fit in and to be recognized. If you start to realize your teen has associated a negative peer group with their identity, talk to them and help them “dig” to uncover their true goals and dreams. 

Teens respond when they are trying to accomplish a goal that they define as opposed to a goal or desire defined for them. When that hidden gem is uncovered, your teen will be able to blossom into his/her true being.

Remember, your teen’s development is a process that will encompass peaks and valleys. Not all of their decisions will be spot on, and neither will yours. Sometimes they will make the same mistake more than once. Although the journey of parenting can be a rocky one, there is almost always light at the end of the tunnel – as long as you look for it. The more creative you can be in regard to involvement in your teen’s life, the more accurate your intuitions will be and the higher the likelihood that your interventions will be received well. The best leaders encourage and empower others to be the best they can be. Who better to do this for your teen than you?