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Punks. Losers. Sex-crazed. Dumb. Do your teen’s best friends raise your eyebrows and lots of red flags? What can you do if the kids your own kid hangs out with seem sketchy and scary?

The reason why our teen’s friends worry us is that we realize these people create a mirror image of our own child. If he likes these delinquents doesn’t that mean he’s a delinquent too? Well, yes, maybe. It’s unlikely that your teen chooses friends very different from himself, or that kids very different from him choose him as a pal.

Which should be a relief, actually. You know your child and you know that sometimes she dresses strangely and sometimes she says things you’d love to silence but that she’s really a good kid. She’s an ordinary teen, trying to establish her own way of thinking and being and she’s doing not that bad a job of it. Chances are that the very same can be said of your child’s friends. Just like your own kid, other people’s teens might seem more unsavory than they really are.

But maybe this is not a relief but a wake-up call. If you see really unacceptable behavior in your teen’s friends – shoplifting, vandalism, bullying, drug and alcohol use – then it’s a good bet your child is a participant, in a small way if not all-in. If this is the case, then it’s time to stop blaming your teen’s friends for being a bad influence or carping at your child to find friends you think are more acceptable. It’s time to realize that this is who your own child has become, right under your nose.

How can you tell which is the true situation? How can you tell if your child’s friends are really as sweet as your own kid is or if your own kid is just as out-of-control as her friends?

The first thing is to get to know your teen’s friends better. Do you even know who your teen’s friends are or what they like to do? See how many of these questions you can answer:

  1. Who is your teen’s “best friend”?
  2. Which kids does your teen spend the most time with?
  3. Where do these kids live? Are they nearby or a distance away?
  4. Is your teen a member of some clique or group?
  5. What do your teen and his friends do for fun?
  6. What is the riskiest thing your teen and his friends have ever done
  7. What is the riskiest thing your teen and his friends do pretty regularly?
  8. On a Saturday night, where are your teen and his friends?
  9. How often do your teen and his friends skip school? Are his friends often absent or tardy?

The second thing to do is to have a conversation with your teen. This has to be a pleasant talk, in which your attitude is that of a person wanting to understand better, not the attitude of a criminal investigator. You can express your concern about your teen’s friends and listen while he defends them. You can ask him to be aware of behavior you see in his friends that makes you anxious. Avoid making threats, forbidding him to see someone, or raising your voice. If you stay calm and listen respectfully, you’ll learn more.

Here’s the thing: your kids will live in a world populated by their peers. It’s their peers they must connect with. Eventually they will move beyond the family sphere and make their own families and their own lives. They’ve already started this move. There’s nothing you can do to stop it or to keep your teen under your total control.

So keep the lines of communication open. Be supportive of your teen and of her friends without being permissive or trying to be one of the group. Be clear about your expectations. And be patient. The bumpy road you and your teen are on right now will smooth out as she and her friends leave adolescence and become more mature.

Above all, don’t dislike your teen’s friends. Disliking his friends means you dislike him. That’s how he sees it.

© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Look for free downloads on Dr. Anderson’s website at