There’s this boy in the neighborhood, you know the type, reverse Mohawk streaked green, an earring, and a dangerous look in his eyes. He’s a bad influence. And your son is attracted to him like iron filings to a magnet.
So what’s a parent to do? If you forbid the relationship you’ll only be driving your son to this boy. Forbidding a teen to do anything is like daring him to do it. In fact it’s tempting to suggest you actually urge your kid to hang with this bad boy. Reverse psychology, you know?
Sarcasm aside, how do you keep your child away from a dangerous relationship without alienating your own offspring?
1. Begin by embracing the enemy. That’s right. Invite this child over. Talk to him. Get to know him. Draw him out.
It won’t be easy. Kids like this tend not to be exceptionally talkative. You’ll be lucky if you get a grunt or two.
What you want to do is build a relationship with this child and become a positive influence on him. By guiding the behavior of your child’s friend, you may end up influencing the behavior of your own child. Your child may be pleasantly surprised at your easy acceptance of his friend so that in the worst case scenario, your efforts at being reasonable will be noted and appreciated.
2. Never attribute your own child’s poor behavior to an outside cause. It’s easy to lay blame on an outside influence for your child’s bad behavior. But there is never a good outcome to, for instance, blaming your child’s messy room on “that kid with the belly ring.” All you’ll do is cause your child to become defensive. And his room will still be just as messy only now it will be a messy room plus slamming doors and loud protests.
Instead, address the primary issue (the messy room) and offer helpful suggestions. You might say, “Your room is pretty messy. Looks like it will be a lot of work to clean it up. For now, how about putting your dirty clothes in the hamper?”
3. Build your child’s self-esteem. Most of the time, a teen’s inappropriate behavior is related to self-esteem issues. If you obsess over your child’s piercings and tattoos you’ll push him further to the dark side because you’ll end up reinforcing his notion that he doesn’t fit into normative society: he’s not acceptable as he is. Instead, make a point of making positive personal comments to your child. Caveat: the complimentary things you say to your child must be true. He’ll know if you’re lying. And that won’t do a thing for his self-esteem.
If your child feels good about himself, he will feel free to choose friends he rightfully enjoys for their talents and personalities rather than for a buzz of danger and excitement.
4. Understand that it’s peers before parents and other family. When it comes to teens, fitting in with a group is the end all and be all of their existence. The friendships they have with the peers take priority of their relationships to their family members. In part, this is due to the fact that family will be your family no matter what, but friends must be cultivated and maintained. Kids want to feel they belong, that they are part of a tribe.
Acceptance by their peers is the mirror for how teens gauge their own normalcy. If they have friends, they know they are normal. In the teenage mind, a lack of friends implies a devastating defect. Any friend will be welcome in this case, including a not-so-good influence of a friend.
Just knowing you understand all this, can make a big difference in how your child builds relationships and with whom.