- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 4, 2005

To step in or step back? Has your adolescent brought home new friends? Not sure what you think of them? Here is some advice to help you assess the situation and act accordingly:

• Ask yourself why your child has chosen this new friend. What is going on in your child’s life? Loss of a longtime friend? Family trouble? Changing schools? Does this new friend offer status or security your child does not have?

• If the new “bad” friend has chosen your child — again, ask why. What does your child offer — security? A place to hang out? Someone to manipulate? Feeling as if the child belongs to a family?

• Think hard about what you don’t like about the new friend. Is it superficial (i.e., appearance)? Is it based on rumors? Do you have a problem with the child’s family but not necessarily the child? Taking a good look at these reasons may reveal hidden prejudices — or bring to light some realistic concerns.

• Share your concerns with your child, but don’t make demands or declarations. Judging or criticizing is sure to end the conversation. A better approach is to have a conversation such as, “You have been swearing a lot lately. You never swore before you started hanging around with Mike,” or, “Have you noticed the change in your music taste since you met Amy?”

• Talk to the other child’s parents. It is best to do this as soon as your child makes a new friend. Share contact information. Be open-minded. You might need to rely on these parents should your children get into trouble. Being on the same parenting page will make things smoother for everyone.

• Talk to the new friend — you may see a different side to him or her. Invite the friend to stay for dinner. Ask about his or her classes or family. Driving the children places is a great way to overhear what they are talking about or planning.

• Make your house the place the teens want to be. Stock up on snacks. Set up a basketball court and buy a stack of DVDs. This way, you will be able to keep an eye on the friends and see whether your concerns are real.

• Get the facts. Talk to parents, teachers and other adults who know the new friend. Do they share your concerns?

• Watch for red flags. Look for differences in your child since the new friend has come into the picture. Slipping grades, the smell of alcohol or smoke, erratic behavior (which can be a sign of drug use or depression), lying about his or her whereabouts all are warning signs. When talking to your child, concentrate on your child’s behavior, not the friend’s behavior.

• Stay busy. There is such a thing as overscheduling a child. However, being involved in after-school activities and sports teams will encourage friendships with like-minded teens. Plus, you will know where your youngsters are spending their time and probably will get to know the other families.

• Sometimes children have to learn from their mistakes in friendship. Getting their feelings hurt or being dumped by the popular clique will sting, but in the end, they will be OK. Validate their feelings, but don’t say “Get over it,” or “I told you so.”

• There are times when it is all right to forbid a bad friend. When your child’s health or safety is in danger or law enforcement is involved, it is time to step in. It may be easier said than done, because the children probably will see each other at school.

Sources: author and educational consultant Michele Borba, psychologist Peter Sheras, author Rosalind Wiseman.

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