How can I make sure that my teenage son hangs out with right friends?
May 29, 2012 4:39 AM   Subscribe

How can I make sure that my teenage son hangs out with right friends?

I am a father of a decent 11 year old boy. So far no major problems. However I am a firm believer in "You are what your company is". He has now started to hang out indepentently with his friends and I want to make sure that he chooses right friends. At least I wish to give him some pointers that will help in making the right decisions about his friends.

1. How should I make sure that he hangs out with right friends (hardworking, honest and with a positive attitude towards life)?

2. What pointers can I give him that will help him in making right decisions about his friends?

posted by musicgold to Human Relations (23 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I'd say

- Take him to extra curricular activities where he can meet the kind of kids you'd prefer him to be friends with. For example, the Scouts seem to have the kind of ethos you admire. Even better, some mixed age activity group where there might be families he can make friends with.
- Be supportive and encouraging of efforts he makes to hang out with people that you approve of.
- Make sure he knows that he can call you any time, anywhere, for a non judgemental lift home, and he can then freely blame his leaving on you ("Dad came and towed me home by my ear!").
- Make sure he knows that it's always acceptable to say No to people, even if it seems rude, and people who won't take No for an answer aren't being good friends to you.
posted by emilyw at 4:53 AM on May 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

So much of this is dependent on you teaching him to value hardwork, honesty, and optimism. If those are core beliefs you have and you have insisted upon them to your son, then he will seek them out in his friendships.

Outside of that and being the parent who says: "I don't want you to hang out with [Lazy, Lying, Pessimistic Boy] anymore. I forbid it!" I don't think there is anything you can do to force your son to not be friends with people he shares common interests with. You can try pointing out the negative qualities. This might work while he remains young, but the older he gets the more he's going to disregard you.

The other option is to scare the living daylights out of him. Which is what my parents did. It worked, but I'm probably more introvertive because of it.
posted by royalsong at 4:54 AM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Well, the WORST way to do it is to disapprove of anyone he meets that doesn't meet your standards, especially if you're just judging them based on their clothes or their general demeanor. Be openminded and you won't drive him to secrecy and lies, because in the end, you can't control who he hangs out with.

As a data point, I hung out with a bunch of awesome creeps and losers as a middle school kid, my mom accepted them, invited them into her home and guided me through love and listening and advice, and I ended up OK by the time I was a senior in HS.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:01 AM on May 29, 2012 [31 favorites]

Talk to your kid about his friends and the things they like to do together. He's still young, so if you start now, and do it in a friendly, casual way (as opposed to making it sound accusatory) he may just tell you.

In my experience, parents are a crappy judge of "good" kids, since it's often the ones who are up to something that put on the best show. If I had let my parents choose my friends for me in high school, I would have been hanging out with kids who drank every weekend and got high in the parking lot after school, because they were the all-American looking ones who were popular, on every sports team, wore the nice clothes, and were socially well-adapted.

Instead, I hung out with the dorky misfits. They may not have looked all nice and sparkly, with their "sloppy" clothes and "weird hair" and "bad attitudes" (I mean, geez, some of them were even Democrats), but they were kind to others, usually very smart (if not great students), and weren't cool enough to get invited to where the cool kids were doing bad things.

So, talk to your kid to determine who he's hanging out with. Don't police his friend choices, and don't assume you know better. Listen to him and, unless he gives you a reason not to, TRUST him.
posted by phunniemee at 5:01 AM on May 29, 2012 [52 favorites]

You can not control his friends.

You can force him to do his homework, and make study for school. This will result in being in honors classes, and statistically, kids are friends with the classmates, and honors students get in less trouble.

You can also force him to join groups or activities - like sports. Statistically, kids are friends with other kids in the club or own their team. And kids involved in clubs and sports get in less trouble.

BUt you can not, and should not, be picking his friends for him.
posted by Flood at 5:03 AM on May 29, 2012 [7 favorites]

Make your house awesome to hang out at. Invite his friends to come over, stock the kitchen with decent snacks, have firm but reasonable rules and don't do much more than say hi and a few minutes chat when they come over. Be interested in what's going on in his friends' lives, either from them or him, and if you get the chance to meet their parents, jump on it and be friendly to them.

We think of the LBJ quote on Hoover: "It's probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in."

You want the teenagers to see your house as a safe friendly place to hang out at. Not where they can smoke/drink/surf porn, but a place they can drop in after school for a meal and to watch TV or just hang out, where they feel welcomed and given space with reasonable healthy rules.

Group sports or clubs are a good idea too.
posted by viggorlijah at 5:11 AM on May 29, 2012 [12 favorites]

He's a decent kid. Until he demonstrates to you that he doesn't choose the friends you want him to, I would just let him figure this out for himself. If you interfere then he'll learn you don't trust him, and act accordingly.
posted by caek at 5:14 AM on May 29, 2012 [12 favorites]

Another thing:

It's pretty hard to make friends. The better your kid is at making friends, the more choice he will have in who he wants to hang out with. If the only people his own age who will talk to him happen to be a bunch of low grade criminals, that's who he will hang out with.

Therefore, anything you can do to teach him how to make and keep friends easily will help him to exercise his discretion in who his friends are. I think it's important to model this behaviour yourself, so he sees what it is you do to make friends with people you meet or to keep up friendships with people you know.
posted by emilyw at 5:15 AM on May 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

In my opinion, no-one makes friends by sizing someone up and saying "OK, this person matches factors A, B and C that my father believes make a good friend". The factors that determine who you make friends with are a combination of your personality, your interests and your need to satisfy certain emotional needs.

I suspect the basics of personality and emotional need are probably pretty hardwired by age 11 and there is little you can do to change this, except by maybe manufacturing a relationship with someone that matches your son's needs or through some sort of emotional trauma, neither of which sounds like a particularly healthy approach.

The only area that you can probably have a constructive input is by exposing him to groups of people who you believe are a match between both of your expectations for friends. This might be a sports group or, as royalsong suggests, a scout troup, or, depending on his interests, some sort of hobbyist or gaming group. But there are still limits to this; forcing him to join a group in which he has no interest is only likely to be detrimental.

If he is as well adjusted as you suggest, I think you should trust him to make his own choices - and let him learn from any mistakes. Obviously you should provide him with the necessary guidance and information about the benefits of education, the complications of sex and the dangers of excessive drug use however ultimately life is a long time and very few people have their lives seriously damaged by the people they are friends with when they are teenagers.
posted by oclipa at 5:17 AM on May 29, 2012

Make it clear that your son can always reach out to you when a situation has gone bad. Teach him that getting help in such times is not the same as tattling. Be absolutely unfailingly I blaming if he breaks his arm falling out of a free he was explicitly told not to climb.

This way, when there is a drug deal/underage party/test cheating ring/whatever that he feels uncomfortable navigating on his own, he can call you and your head won't explode with cartoon steam.

If he feels like he has to hide the consequences of his poor choices, he will. Usually by making more poor choices.

Teach him Agency in the psychological sense. Allow him to decide when he's had enough dinner, whether to mop the floor or dust the knock knacks, what to wear, and most importantly, which people he socialized with. If he tells you he thinks Mrs so and so is creepy and doesn't want to keep hanging out at her house, let him trust his gut. It will make him more comfortable trusting that 'something is wrong here' feeling that teenagers often ignore.
posted by bilabial at 5:30 AM on May 29, 2012 [5 favorites]

Please don't try to control his friends. He may go along with it at first but may grow to resent you for it later and you don't want to run that risk, do you?

Making friends, and at times the wrong friends, is an important part of growing up. I had a few "problem" friends in school and though I knew how my parents felt about them, these kids were always made welcome in our house, and I was allowed to go to theirs. My parents trusted that I would not make the wrong decisions and I was always a very rule-abiding kid despite all the trouble my friends got into. And I'm glad I had the opportunity to make mistakes, to fall out with people, and to figure out for myself who was "right" for me. It's really helped me navigate my adult relationships.
posted by Ziggy500 at 5:33 AM on May 29, 2012 [7 favorites]

Do reasonable stuff to make your house the fun house where everyone wants to be. You don't have to be giving them booze, but lots of chips/snacks/food, some privacy ("sure, hang out in the basement!"), be friendly and polite to his friends.
posted by the young rope-rider at 5:36 AM on May 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

I am the parent of two teenagers. You can't pick their friends. The best you can do is to insure that you have an open and honest relationship with your son - so that he knows he can come to you about anything. He will make mistakes and he will make poor choices, it's what teenagers do. The key to getting through the teen years is to have the kind of relationship where he will come to you first; and not double down on the bad decision by trying to hide it from you.
posted by COD at 5:38 AM on May 29, 2012 [6 favorites]

You can't pick his friends, but you can equip him with the tools necessary to stand up to the "wrong" types of friends.

Is he confident in himself?
If he is, then he won't be as susceptible to other people's judgements and seeking approval.
Does he know that you trust him and will always be there for him?
If so, then he will be able to come to you as soon as he is uncomfortable with a situation with friends that you can work together on solving.
Is he exposed to lots of opportunities to make friends?
If he has a choice of who to hang out with he can broaden his exposure to different types of people and it will be easier for him to drop people that aren't that great.
posted by like_neon at 6:16 AM on May 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Make sure you don't pressure him to hang out with particular kids you think are "good". My brother had a friend down the street for years who was a "good" kid, and then he suddenly kept telling my parents he didn't want to hang out with him without offering any explanation. My parents initially tried to keep getting them to spend time together but eventually gave up. Several years later they found out he was getting into drugs and such, and my brother made the call on his own but didn't know how to communicate that that's what was going on. So if you teach your kid right, they'll manage it themselves, and your micromanagement may cause more harm than good.
posted by olinerd at 7:06 AM on May 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

I've never been a parent, but I have been a teenager. And I nth that this is something you can't force. If you've been teaching and setting good fatherly examples of the traits you value, that will stay with him throughout his youth, through both bad friendships and good.

And figuring out which people are good for you is one of those things that everyone has to learn from experience. It can be frustrating to sit on the sidelines and watch someone take years to come to a conclusion you'd known all along, but they won't learn it until they experience it themselves. You can guide and offer advice without judgment, but you have to give the kid enough freedom and responsibility to learn his own lessons.

When I was a teenager, my mom mentioned to me that a couple of my friends were "good influences." Oddly, the good influences were not the milquetoast honor-roll kids I typically hung out with, but the kids who were just a little bit edgier. I think she liked them for their confidence and ability to think for themselves. I kind of liked that she saw good qualities outside of the usual good-kid standards, and that through her approval of them she was encouraging more independence from me.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:12 AM on May 29, 2012

I think you should make friends with some Good Parents who are working on cultivating some Good Kids.

Extracurricular friends and friends made through school are often friends of convenience. They are time/location-based, situational friendships... and while they're important, they also tend to be temporary.*

By making friends with families who subscribe to the same cultural newsletter as you, you'll provide your son access to potentially longer lasting and deeper friendships. Those friends will have a much greater impact on your son and they will help teach him what to look for in people he meets in other situations.

As for the rest: meet his friends, and trust him to have chosen them for a reason - which may not be readily apparent to you. You might be a good judge of character, and you might not. If you have questions about his friends, ask him for his opinion. He's entitled to his own, you know? My mother possesses encyclopedic knowledge of the kids I knew growing up because she made it her business to know who we spent time with, and when, and why, and where, and what we were doing. I never remember even a HINT of an agenda in what she was asking about, and while I probably intellectually knew she was keeping tabs on me, I also appreciated that an adult cared what was going on in my life. Rather than feeling like my own personal Stasi, it felt nice to know that someone cared.

Meeting his friends and getting to know them will help you get to know your son better, and that will help you figure out if there are things that you need to work on with your son.

*I recognize that this isn't always true. I met my Best Friend in kindergarten, and although we don't live in the same city anymore, we still speak multiple times a week.
posted by jph at 7:14 AM on May 29, 2012

Some of the best, most supportive, most long-lasting friendships I made as a young person were the ones that my parents openly disapproved of. Some of the most toxic friendships were with people that my parents loved, and I always thought it was really funny when they'd ask me "Why don't I ever see so-and-so arond anymore?" and I'd have to make up some false story because they'd freak out if they knew the truth.

Watch, listen, try not to intrude unless he seems unhappy or lonely.

(Also, as one of the "good" kids, I wound up being a positive influence that some of my more troubled friends wouldn't have normally had.)
posted by hermitosis at 7:23 AM on May 29, 2012 [7 favorites]

However I am a firm believer in "You are what your company is".

I understand wanting him to make good choices and seek friends who will not be a bad influence. I understand making it clear that people will judge him on appearances, including the company he keeps...but as his father, I think the most important thing you can do in this area as his father is to reinforce that your son is who he is, not who his company is.
posted by desuetude at 7:57 AM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I must admit, my first reaction was "What does the 'right people' mean?" If there are certain characteristics that you'd like your son to be around, you can encourage him to do group activities with people who exhibit these characteristics. Doing some joint volunteering projects might be very helpful.

You've got some great advice in this thread, especially about making your home a safe, trusted place for your son and his friends. I'd like to add that showing your son how your friendships work might be helpful too. You may already do this. How do you interact with your friends? What makes them good people to you? Have you ever talked with your son about your friendships? Not necessarily in a direct way, but perhaps a few good stories about how you met or why you guys are good friends, and show him how you maintain your friendship. This doesn't have to be touchy-feely. It could be as simple as mentioning every so often that you're going to do some activity with a friend and oh, here's a funny story about something you guys did together. If he sees good, healthy friendships, he'll probably more likely to choose one himself.
posted by wiskunde at 8:21 AM on May 29, 2012

Children seldom forget the values their parents teach them ... even if they are attracted to others who don't hold those values. Be consistent in your expectations of him.

As a data point, the person my mother disliked the most from elementary school on (and who she swore would amount to nothing more than a delinquent) has been my friend for 32 years now.
posted by nubianinthedesert at 1:03 PM on May 29, 2012

Make your house the place where kids can hang out -- make it a welcoming place with some attractive perks. We went with a Wii and an Air Hockey table, but whatever. We also make a lot of popcorn and brownies.
It's a lot of work, but be the parents who host some cool events and parties the kids look forward to. For our oldest daughter we hosted the "Epic Halloween Party" every year and a few other things. Do those two and you have a good chance to get to know the friends somewhat.
When you talk to the friends talk to them like they're people, not kids, but don't be afraid to set boundaries on behavior. You can tell a lot about a kid by how they react to "Excuse me, but we don't allow food upstairs."
And encourage your kid's passions, even though it may not be what you might choose for them. If he has interests, he will tend to hang out with people he shares those interests with.
And, very important, be willing to be a "mean dad" and require a certain level of accountability from him no matter where he goes and with who. We require the same stuff -- need to meet or at least know who the chaperone is, need to know who's attending, what the agenda is, a negotiated return time, and some protocol about keeping in touch -- no matter who they're going with. That way I don't seem to be playing favorites with some friends and being harsher with others. Also I find that my kids can use "mean dad" as an excuse when peer pressure is their only reason to even consider going ("My old man said I can't go..."). I have no problem being "mean dad" when needed.
posted by cross_impact at 1:44 PM on May 29, 2012

I'd say spend your time preparing your children to make decisions, and help them overcome the consequences of bad decisions (with as little judgement as possible), and have faith in your own parenting abilities and their decision making abilities.

I had friends my parents didn't approve of when I was a teenager. I wasn't directly aware of it at the time, but Mum recently told me she didn't like them.

They never overtly said anything at all, but I kinda knew. Their trust that I would outgrow these friends (which I did) and they'd equipped me with the decision making abilities to not get in too much trouble meant a lot to me.

If they'd tried to lock me down, forbidden me from seeing them or going to their houses or whatever I would have reacted quite badly, either by disobeying them (unlikely) or lashing out in other ways (much more likely).
posted by Admira at 11:04 PM on May 29, 2012

« Older Is closure/ friendship still possible or a good...   |   DIY repair tips for scratched Wacom tablet Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.